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Pieter Geyl 

Translated from the Dutch by Olive Rentier 

spirit sinister: *. . . My argument is that 
War makes rattling good history; but Peace is 
poor reading. So I back Bonaparte for the 
reason that he will give pleasure to posterity.* 

THOMAS HARDY, The Dynasts 
Part First, Act ii, Scene v 

Penguin Books 

in association with Jonathan Cape 

Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England 
Penguin Books Pty Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia 

First published by Jonathan Cape 1949 
Published in Peregrine Books 1965 

Copyright © Pieter Geyl, 1949 

Made and printed in Great Britain by 

Cox and Wyman Ltd, London, Reading, and Fakenham 

Set in Monotype Bembo 

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, 
byway of trade, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise 
disposed of without the publisher’s consent, in any form 
of binding or cover other than that in which it is published 




Argument Without End 15 

1 Chateaubriand 19 

2 Madame de Stael 21 

3 The Napoleonic Legend 25 


1 Francois Mignet 37 

2 Baron Bignon 39 

3 Armand Lefebvre 46 

4 Adolphe Thiers 55 


The Circumstances 71 

1 Jules Bami 73 

2 Edgar Quinet 76 

3 Pierre Lanfrey 84 

4 Comte d’Haussonville 102 

5 Jules Michelet 125 

6 Hippolyte Taine 127 


The Political and Intellectual Background 143 

1 Prince Napoleon 147 

2 Henry Houssaye 150 

3 Arthur-Levy 158 


4 Frederic Masson ^ 

5 Count Albert Vandal jp, 


1 Old Acquaintances 215 

2 Emile Bourgeois 220 

3 Two More Old Acquaintances 228 

4 Albert Sorel 232 

5 Edouard Driault 278 


Currents and Counter Currents 3x5 

Five Universitaires: 

1 Alphonse Aulard 3xp 

2 A. L. Guerard 324 

3 G. Pariset 325 

4 Jules Isaac 33X 

5 Charles Seignobos 333 

Three Academiciens: 

6 Jacques Bainville 336 

7 Louis Madeira 348 

8 Gabriel Hanotaux 360 

9 Georges Lefebvre: Another Universitaire 376 

Chronological Table 4 0I 

Index of Authors 4! j 

General Index 4xp 


Central Europe in 1796 16-17 

Central Europe in 1 807 48-49 



I cannot claim to be an expert on Napoleon. To do so rightfully one must have 
devoted a lifetime of study to the man and to the period. 

This book is a by-product of our recent experiences. In the early months of 
1940, finding it difficult to pursue the work on which I was engaged, I plunged 
into reading about Napoleon, and wrote an essay which was to have appeared 
in the June number of one of our monthly reviews. After the capitulation, in 
May, the manuscript was returned to me, still marked with an instruction to 
the printer to be quick, and without a word of explanation. No explanation was 
needed for me to understand that, although I had not written a single word in 
it about Hitler or National Socialism, the parallel with our own times had 
seemed to the editor a little too pointed in the new circumstances. In September 
1940 1 used the article for some lectures in the Rotterdam School of Economics, 
where occasional bursts of laughter showed the audience to be equally alive to 
the parallel. Again, when I repeated those lectures, not much more than a month 
later, in very different surroundings and for a very different public, namely in 
Buchenwald concentration camp for my fellow hostages, it was the parallel 
that roused the keenest interest and amusement. 

After Buchenwald, in the various places in Holland where I spent the re- 
mainder of my forty months of internment, I did a good deal of further reading 
on Napoleon, but it was only after my release, on medical grounds, in February 
1944 that I conceived and executed the plan of the present book. 

Let me state, in fairness to my own work, that I found a good deal more than 
the parallel to attract me. Napoleon had his own fascination, and French historio- 
graphy a charm of its own. Even the article of 1940 had been in the first instance 
suggested to me not by the problem of the resemblance or contrast between 
Napoleon and Hider, but by the historiographical problem, the problem of the 
endless variety ofinterpretations of Napoleon, his career, his aims, andhis achieve- 
ments. Yet - how could it be otherwise? - 1 had been struck by the parallel, no 
less than had my readers or hearers, and in this book too it has undeniably re- 
mained an element, even though I have alluded to it only very occasionally 
and have nowhere worked it out. 

‘I always hate to compare Hitler with Napoleon. 9 So, listening to the b.b.c. 



the other day, I heard that Winston Churchill had been telling the House of 
Commons, only to continue with a 'but’ and to enter upon the comparison all 
the same. So it is with all of us, and so it is with me. It is simply impossible not to 
do so. The resemblances are too striking. No doubt - and I want to state this 
with unmis takable emphasis - the differences, the contrasts, axe no less obvious. 
History does not repeat itself. Between noticing a parallel and establishing an 
identity there is a wide gap. Between the two world assailants in question the 
differences, the contrasts, are such that, even when as in my case one had hated 
the dictator in Napoleon long before the evil presence of Hitler began darkening 
our lives, one almost feels as if one should ask the pardon of bis shade for men- 
tioning his name in one breath with that of the other. The Revolution which he 
represented - in so far as he did represent it - was a different one. The national 
civilization by which his conquests were accompanied was ... but no ! I do not 
wanttosaythatFrenchciviHzationwasmadeof so much finer stuff than German: 
the difference is that under Napoleon, French civilization (albeit stiffed and nar- 
rowed by him) still accompanied the conquest, while the character of the con- 
quest that it has been the lot of our generation to undergo is not compatible with 
any civilization at all. Lastly, the personality of Napoleon - indeed, when I 
think of elaborating the comparison on that score, I suddenly feel a surge of 
revolt against the ‘detractors’, with whom generally (as will be seen) I am on 
quite friendly terms. 

‘But . . But the fact remains that we are here faced with phenomena that 
show an unmistakable relationship. In both cases there was a revolution - two 
revolutions, I am not forgetting it for a moment, animated by principles that 
are not only radically different but in some respects even diametrically opposed. 
But, for all that, in both cases a revolution moved by the conviction, by which 
all revolutions are moved and which causes them to be so incalculably dangerous, 
that it is bringing a new world, a new order; that therefore all the standards, all 
the laws of the past have become antiquated; and that it has on its side not power 
only, but right, so that everything must give way, and all opposition, if not 
contemptible, will be criminal. 

Napoleon certainly did not embody, or did not embody in their purity, the 
principles of 1789; but he derived from the Revolution the conviction I have 
just described, and it made him the dictator and conqueror he was. He was a 
dictator who attempted to break with new legislation what resistance was left 
in the old society; who intensified his power in the State by means of a central- 
ized administration; who suppressed not only all organized influence or control 
and expression of opinion, but free thought itself; who hated the intellect, and 
who entered upon a struggle with the Church which he had first attempted to 
enslave; and who thought that with censorship, police, and propaganda he 


would be able to fashion the mind to his wish. He was a conqueror with whom 
it was impossible to live; who could not help turning an ally into a vassal, or at 
least interpreting the relationship to his own exclusive advantage ; who decorated 
his lust of conquest with the fine-sounding phrases of progress and civilization; 
and who at last, in the name of the whole of Europe, which was to look to him 
for order and peace, presumed to brand England as the universal disturber and 

Methods of compulsion, and atrocities? The worst that our generation has 
had to witness, the persecution of the Jews, had no parallel in Napoleons system. 
Indeed, that system remained true, from first to last, to conceptions of civil 
equality and human rights with which the oppression or extermination of a 
group, not on account of acts or even of opinions, but of birth and blood, would 
have been utterly incompatible. And yet methods of compulsion and atrocities 
are inseparable from the character of the dictator and conqueror, and we shall 
see that Napoleon incurred bitter reproaches, at home and abroad, for some of 
his acts. Nevertheless this is one of the points where the comparison is bound to 
do good to his reputation. What is the proscription of ‘the general staff of the 
Jacobins’ beside the annihilation of all opposition parties in jails or concentration 
camps such as has taken place in the Third Reich? What is the murder of the Duke 
of Enghien beside those of Dolfuss, of General Schleicher and his wife, and of 
so many others on 30 June 1934? What are the executions of Palm, of Hofer, 
what are even the severities with which so many villages and towns in Germany 
and Spain were visited, beside what in our time all occupied territories have had 
to suffer from Hitler’s armies ! The French police were hated and feared in the 
occupied and annexed territories, but when one reads about their conduct with 
a mind full of our present experiences, one cannot help feeling astonished at the 
restraints and resistances they still met with in the stubborn notions of law and 
in the mild manners of a humane age. 

I do not grudge them, nor do I grudge the entire Napoleonic regime, the credit 
which here again accrues to them from the comparison. But if we are to be true 
to our own standards, if we want to live up to our determination that no retro- 
gression in civilization shall be dated from our time, we must not in contemplating 
the past react less sensitively than did the men then living. The case of the perse- 
cution of the Jews remains singular: for the rest we must be alive to the fact, 
when we compare then and now, that although there is a difference in degree, 
there is none in principle. 

There is another point to which it is difficult not to fear that the parallel may 
extend - it is only a later generation that will know for certain. I am alluding to 
the legend. When one sees the French licking the hand that had chastised them ; 
when one notices how the errors and crimes of the Hero, the trials of the people, 


die disasters and losses of the State, were forgotten in the glamour of military 
achievement, of power, unsound and transitory though it was ; when one notices 
the explanations and constructions, ingenious, imaginative, grandiose, that 
were put up as much as a century later by historians - and such excellent his- 
torians ! - then one seems already to discern among later generations of Germans 
the apologists and admirers of the man who was our oppressor and who led 
them to their ruin. 

But, as I have said, I should not be fair to the present book if I gave the im- 
pression that it was written for the parallel and owed to the parallel, in my 
opinion, its principal interest. Certainly it has been a constant surprise to me, 
while reading and writing, to find the parallel presenting itself to my mind 
again and again at ever fresh points. The idea that the course of Revolution and 
of Dictators is predestined, or subject to some law, repeatedly forced itself upon 
my min d. But in the end the book has come to be what I wanted it to be and what 
the title indicates, a book on Napoleon as seen by French historians. 

In two ways I have myself been constantly fascinated while I was engaged 
upon it. First, by the inexhaustible interest of the figure of Napoleon. I shall not 
attempt in this preface to give what I have not wanted to undertake in the book, 
a synthesized valuation of that figure. I am not suffering from the illusion that I 
have been able to relate the various interpretations without subjecting them to 
a judgement of my own. I have striven to give the more important of them their 
full due, but still the reader will easily discover that I have my preferences and 
my aversions, connected with personal convictions and principles, and - to 
use the somewhat over-simplified division of my sub-title - that my sympathies 
are with the against rather than with the/or category. But I shall not on thataccount 
imagine that the entire Napoleon is to be found in Lanfiey or in Taine. I feel 
grateful to Masson and Bainville too, for having taught me to see other aspects 
of that many-sided personality, and to Sorel and Vandal for having expressed 
the historical phenomenon in terms which, problematical as they may be, make 
one hesitate before any all too single-minded rejection of Napoleon as the 
Dictator and Man of Violence. 

And in the second place I have, I may almost say continuously, enjoyed the 
spectacle presented by French historiography. What life and energy, what 
creative power, what ingenuity, imagination, and daring, what sharply con- 
trasted minds and personalities I 1 And all the time the historical presentation 
turns out to be closely connected with French political and cultural life as a 

i. I do not claim to give a complete survey, but I do believe I may say tha t the omissions 
do not affect the general outlines of the picture. 



I can only hope that I shall be able to communicate to the reader something of 
my interest in the protean figure of Napoleon and in the manifold, problems of 
Ins regime, as well as in the picture given by his historians and its connexion with 
the modem history of France. 


Utrecht. 14 October 1944 

All I want to add to the above preface, which was written nearly seven months 
before Holland was liberated, is a cordial word of thanks to the translator, Mrs 
Renier, for her devotion and patience, and to my friend Professor Remer, for 
his behef in the book as well as for his assistance. 


Utrecht. 23 November 1947 

Part i 

The Antithesis at the Beginning 

Argument Without End 

My aim in this book is to set forth and compare a number of representations of 
Napoleon as given by leading French historians. Striking differences will emerge, 
but this is hardly surprising. History can reach no unchallengeable conclusions 
on so many-sided a character, on a life so dominated, so profoundly agitated, 
by the circumstances of the time. For that I bear history no grudge. To expect 
from history those final conclusions which may perhaps be obtained in other 
disciplines is in my opinion to misunderstand its nature. 

I say this with some emphasis, for Professor Romein, in his inaugural lecture 
at Amsterdam, did take precisely this point of view. He was dealing with a 
subject similar to mine. He was tracing the various accounts that have been given 
at different times of the Dutch revolt against Spain, and the resulting chart of 
conflicting opinions seemed to alarm him considerably. He called his lecture 
‘An Image Shattered’, and the scientific method as apphed to history seemed to 
him to have failed, since its consequence is not unity but diversity. 

Without entering into philosophical or methodological discussions, I must 
nevertheless make it clear that this lack of finality strikes me as both unavoidable 
and natural, and that the scientific method is certainly not to blame. The scientific 
method serves above all to establish facts; there is a great deal about which we 
can reach agreement by its use. But as soon as there is a question of explanation, 
of interpretation, of appreciation, though the special method of the historian 
remains valuable, the personal element can no longer be ruled out, that point 
of view which is determined by the circumstances of his time and by his own 
preconceptions. Every historical narrative is dependent upon explanation, 
interpretation, appreciation. In other words, we cannot see the past in a single 
communicable picture except from a point of view, which implies a choice, a 
personal perspective. It is impossible that two historians, especially two historians 
living in different periods, should see any historical personality in the same light. 
The greater the political importance of a historical character, the more impos- 
sible this is. 

Is there anyone whose decisions have been more affected by the ever-widening 
network of international relations than Napoleon? Is there anyone whose de- 
cisions have had greater consequences for the whole of Europe? It goes without 
saying that the various writers who have tried to express their opinions of him 



and his career have reached different conclusions. No human intelligence could 
hope to bring together the overwhelming multiplicity of data and of factors, 
of forces and of movements, and from them establish the true, one might almost 
say the divine balance. That is literally a superhuman task. A man’s judgement 
- for however solemnly some people may talk about the lessons of History, the 
historian is after all only a man sitting at his desk - a historian’s judgement, then, 
may seem to him the only possible conclusion to draw from the facts, he may 
feel himself sustained and comforted by his sense of kinship with the past, and 
yet that judgement will have no finality. Its truth will be relative, it will be 

Truth, though for God it may be One, assumes many shapes to men. Thus it 
is that the analysis of so many conflicting opinions concerning one historical 
phenomenon is not just a means of whiling away the time, nor need it lead to 
discouraging conclusions concerning the untrustworthiness of historical study. 
The study even of contradictory conceptions can be fruitful. Any one thesis 
or presentation may in itself be unacceptable, and yet, when it has been j ettisoned, 
there remains something of value. Its very critics are that much richer. History 
is indeed an argument without end. 

i Chateaubriand 

Napoleon had his detractors and his glorifiers, even during his lifetime. To 
see him as he appeared to his detractors, it is not necessary to go to that part of 
Europe which opposed and finally brought him down. In his own France there 
were Chateaubriand and Mme de Stael, of whom the former painted a most 
repulsive picture of him at the critical moment after his first abdication, when the 
Bourbons were making their initial somewhat hesitating reappearance on the 
scene. 1 

Chateaubriand is a figure of great importance in French literature, one of the 
very few which the period produced. Mme de Stael, however greatly her work 
may differ from his, is the only writer whom one would immediately and un- 
hesitatingly place on the same level. Romanticism is vested in him, not only in 
his original, lively style, but in his attitude towards himself and towards life. 
He is the nobleman, homesick for the ancien regime, with a real feeling for those 
values of beauty and tradition imperilled by the Revolution. Yet he had too 
deep an understanding, too developed a historical instinct, to be a pure reac- 
tionary. At an early stage Chateaubriand had made his peace with the regime, 
he was a rallii, as it was called, and had established his reputation by the publica- 
tion ofLe Genie du Christianisme , a wholly emotional and traditionalist apology 
for Catholicism, on aesthetic and sociological lines, which made a tremendous 
hit at that moment of reaction against the anti-clerical tendencies of the Revo- 
lution, and served the reading public as a suitable companion-piece to Bona- 
parte’s Concordat. Young Chateaubriand was in good odour at the new Court, 
through the influence of Fontanes, the Consul-Emperor’s Court poet and orator, 
himself a man of the ancien regime, but he was made of tougher stuff than the 
pliable self-seeking Fontanes. Two courageous actions, at a time when Napoleon’s 
power appeared unassailable, had earned him the right to attack the Emperor 
in 1814. In 1804, after the murder of the Due d’Enghien, he resigned from the 
diplomatic service during the stricken silence which followed the crime. In 1807 
he wrote an article in his paper, the Mercure, which made an even greater sen- 
sation. In scarcely veiled terms he attacked imperial tyranny, summoning it 
before the judgement seat of history. The paper was immediately suppressed. 
But Napoleon still hoped to be able to do something with him, and the Academy 

1 , De Buonaparte, ties Bourbons, 1814 . 



took the risk, therefore, of making him a member. His inaugural address, how- 
ever, was of such a character that his meddlesome overlord refused him per- 
mission to deliver it without alterations, which he refused to make. If it was his 
pride, his vanity, as much as a fundamental dislike of despotism, which made 
him stand up to the Emperor, the fact remains that he did stand up to him, and 
Napoleon, though he took no measures against the vicomte (certainly to his secret 
disappointment), was worried by the opposition, however ineffective, of the 
great writer. Indeed this one testimony by a Catholic nobleman of royalist con- 
nexions encouraged all those who still in their hearts resisted, even when their 
emotional and intellectual background was very different. 

The work that appeared in 1814 was simply a pamphlet, and its importance is 
largely due to the moment at which it appeared. In that atmosphere of uncer- 
tainty it sounded a positive note, hatred of the fallen Emperor. What was Napo- 
leon? The destroyer, the despiser of men, the foreigner, the Corsican, especially 
scornful of Frenchmen, careless of French blood, devourer of generations of 
young men, suppressor of all free opinion, demanding of writers a toll of flatter- 
ing unction as the price of permission to publish - in a word, the tyrant. 

2 Madame de Stael 

There was open war between Mme de Stael and Napoleon. In 1803 she was 
exiled from France, and ker books, at first merely branded as indecent by the 
obedient Press, were banned. Tke angle from which she judged the regime, her 
personality and her methods, explain why Napoleon was less tolerant to her 
than he was to Chateaubriand. 

Mme de Stael was the daughter of the Swiss banker Necker, who at the eleventh 
hour of the ancien regime was to have been the minister responsible for its recon- 
struction, and from whom, in the first stage of the Revolution, the National 
Assembly had expected so much. She admired her father, and remained faithful 
throughout her life to the original hberal aims of the Revolution. Perhaps this 
can be explained by her Protestant origins and upbringing. Perhaps it was also 
the fact that she was not French by birth, however deep her love for France, 
which made her immune to the lures of glory and power which undermined 
the resistance of so many others. Her personal fortune and the title of her husband, 
a Swedish diplomat, enabled her to play an important part in the social life of 
Paris, and this, thanks to her vivacious and energetic personality, she was able 
to maintain through many a change of government. Her salon was the centre 
of her life. Conversation, as she herself says, was her greatest pleasure, but per- 
haps it gave her even more satisfaction to exert influence, to play a part, through 
her friends and her activities, in the development of the great events going on 
around her. 

As a woman with a devouring need for action, whose aim it was to know and 
if possible to influence everyone worth knowing in political circles, she had 
naturally tried to get hold of General Bonaparte after his triumphs in Italy. In 
this she had not much success, for Bonaparte did not care for intellectual women. 
Nevertheless Mme de Stael was still among his admirers after the Egyptian 
campaign, and rushed eagerly back to Paris after the 18th Brumaire to enjoy 
the spectacle of what she considered a reforming and conciliatory administration. 
But before long disillusionment set in. The young dictator’s determination to 
do everything himself, his refusal to admit discussion, revolted her. She had a 
sharp eye for the dangerous implications of his cavalier attitude to the law. As 
a result, she egged on her friend Benjamin Constant to outspoken warnings 
and criticism in the Tribunate. Nothing more was needed to make Bonaparte 



see her as an enemy. The concentrated spite with which he persecuted her, and 
the energy with which she carried on the fight verbally and through her writings, 
combined to convert her from a celebrated into a great European personality. 

There was something European about her. She was enthusiastically French, 
but she knew Europe better than most Frenchmen. Her Swiss Protestant youth 
gave her the key to a world which it was difficult for them to penetrate, parti- 
cularly after the Revolution. Before her time, her great compatriot Rousseau 
had done everything he could to carry French culture beyond the limits of a 
narrow classicism which to most people seemed to be solely national. Though 
politically his spirit might have found triumphant expression in the Revolution, 
culturally this upheaval had given rise to a reaction against that interest in the 
intellectual life of Britain and Germany which had begun to show its broad- 
ening and fertilizing effect . 1 The Revolution followed the reactionary classical 
tradition of Voltaire, not only in those literary outpourings which later genera- 
tions have found unreadable, but in that general idea of Man as a universal ab- 
straction, in that indifference or even impatience displayed towards the individual 
distinguishing features of peoples and of national cultures. Naturally the features 
of this abstract Man were predominantly French, but the demands of univer- 
sality made it necessary to exclude those special characteristics which are at the 
same time the deepest and the truest, with the most deleterious effects on the 
originality and vitality of French civilization . 2 These tendencies were only em- 
phasized under Napoleon. His own outlook was classicist, universalist, in the 
typical eighteenth-century way, even though, as we shall see, there was a strong 
romantic streak in his personality. At the same time he consciously excited the 
pride and self-satisfaction of la grande nation. The wars automatically brought 
about a disparaging attitude towards cultures other than the French, and in 
particular hatred of Britain, and the isolation and sterile rigidity of French culture 

x. cf. Joseph Texte, J.-J. Rousseau et les origines du cosmopolitisms Utteraire (1895), 
p. 406 ff. 

2. Voltaire dted the fact that Corneille and Racine were played everywhere, but 
Shakespeare, so far, only in Britain, as a sufficient proof of the inferior literary value of the 
latter. His reasoning has since lost its basis, but apart from that it is typical of the French 
classical spirit. The following point of view, which could be called traditionally British, 
would have been completely unintelligible to Voltaire: 

‘A man does not attain to the universal by abandoning the particular, nor to the ever- 
lasting by an endeavour to overleap the limitations of time and place. The abiding reality 
exists not somewhere apart in the air, but under certain temporary and local forms of 
thought, feeling, and endeavour. We come most deeply into communion with the 
permanent facts and forces of human nature and human life, by accepting first of all this 
fact — that a definite point of observation and sympathy, not a vague nowhere, has been 
assigned to each of us.’ E. Dowdbn, Shakspere . . . His Mind and Art (3rd edition, 1883), 
p. 8 ff. 



were never so marked as when the French were pouring over the whole continent 
of Europe. 

The importance of Mme de Stael in the cultural history of France lies in the 
fact that in spite of unfavourable circumstances she kept up her opposition 
against this cramping of the spirit. This was the declared aim of her famous book 
on Germany, which especially called down on her head the thunderbolts of 
Napoleon and his policy. But politically she reserved her greatest admiration 
for Britain, the land m which popular forces had free play, the land of liberalism 
par excellence - a view which was not likely to make Napoleon regard her with 
more favour. At the end, in 1813, she visited princes and ministers who were 
getting ready for the last lap of the struggle and spurred them on, but only to 
the war against Napoleon, for the distinction between the tyrant and the France 
she loved was a fundamental in her view of the situation. She felt herself too much 
a part of the Revolution to glorify the Bourbons, as Chateaubriand had done. 
Her charge against Napoleon was that he had assassinated Republican liberty. 
Her ideal remained liberty, enlightened, moderate, the liberty of philosophers 
and writers. 

It was from this point of view that she wrote her Considerations sur la Revo ■? 
lutionfrangaise , which was published in 1818 after her untimely death. The idea 
of Napoleon which she develops in the second part, illustrating it by an account 
of his whole career, is remarkably well thought out. There are personal memories 
and observations, and yet the whole work has nothing in it of the mimoire or of 
the pamphlet. This woman of genius has succeeded in portraying her subject 
in historical perspective, which is not of course the same as saying that she has 
succeeded in giving the objective truth about Napoleon. But it is in her writings 
that for the first time it is possible to find unfavourable criticism allied to the 
actual events, in such a way as to set one thinking. Moreover, the problems with 
which the liberal spirit, the spirit of belief in the rule of intellectual and moral 
values, must always wrestle when it comes in contact with the phenomenon of 
power, its rise and decline, are stated by her in such a way that it sometimes seems 
as though later writers, though capable of finer shades and possessing a far richer 
store of data, can only elaborate her themes. 

Here are the brief outlines of her portrait of Napoleon, his career and his 

He comes to the fore as a soldier. The principles of political warfare do not 
interest him. He destroys republican idealism, first in the army, then (with the 
help of the army) in the State. He is the complete egoist, for whom human sym- 
pathy does not exist, for whom men are despised tools, pieces on a chess board. 
He is a foreigner among the French. Having no faith and no fatherland, he pursues 
no other purpose than his own greatness. He is the sly machiavellian, who 



promises peace and makes play with the bogy ofjacobinism, but who when once 
power is in his hands can do nothing but make war. He is the man for whom 
religion and literature mean nothing, except in so far as they minister to his 
greatness or his power, and under whom both must wither. In short, as in 
Chateaubriand’s pamphlet, he is the tyrant. 

3 The Napoleonic Legend 

The first to provide a portrait in which there was nought but unblemished 
beauty, endearing humanity, greatness, and virtue was Napoleon himself. On 
St Helena he set about the task of shaping his reputation for posterity. The 
Memorial , in which the Marquis Las Cases noted his conversations, 1 a book which 
had an immeasurable influence in France, and which was the first and foremost 
source of what is called the Napoleonic legend, was peculiarly suited to become 
a popular classic. Anecdotes and reminiscences chosen at random from the 
whole miraculous life are interwoven with speculations, the whole within the 
framework of the Longwood tragedy and the bitter struggle with Sir Hudson 
Lowe, which Las Cases describes from day to day. This plan gives the book 
its human note. It catches the emotions as well as the interest of innumerable 
readers. It presents Napoleon not just as the aloof mighty Emperor, but as some- 
body who for all his incomparable cleverness, greatness, and luck is nevertheless 
accessible, one of ourselves. 

From this living variegated backcloth emerges the political Napoleon. He 
is before everything else the son of the Revolution, the man who consolidated 
the possession of equality, and made good his country’s escape from feudalism, 
by restoring order, by ridding France of those factions which had practically 
dissipated the fruits of the Revolution, and by wresting peace from the monarchs 
who hated France and the Revolution. That peace (Luneville 1801, Amiens 
1802, when Bonaparte had only just become First Consul) was a breathing space, 
which brought sudden overwhelming popularity to the victorious young hero. 
There was nothing Napoleon liked better to recall after his downfall, and the 
fact could hardly be denied; but how brief was that respite ! How endless, bitter, 
and bloody were the campaigns which followed, up to the disasters and the 
final collapse ! It was all the fault, so the Napoleon of the Memorial would have 
us believe, of those self-same monarchs, and of envious Britain. His conquests 
had adorned the name of France with undying fame - gloire , that word dear to 
the Frenchmen of the period - but they had been forced upon him. He had been 
obliged to conquer Europe in self-defence. And even this conquest was fraught 

1. Le Memorial de Sainte HeUne; some editions carry the title Memoires de Napoleon, 
which properly belongs to the Memoires dictated by Napoleon and dealing mainly with 
his campaigns. 



with benefits. After the French it was the turn of the Dutch, the Swiss, the 
Germans, the Italians, the Spanish, to receive the blessings of the codes of laws 
and other revolutionary reforms. Had he been allowed to go his own way, or 
had he remained victorious, Europe would have become a federation of free 
peoples, grouped round enlightened and fortunate France in an eternal peace. 
It was the hatred of the monarchs and the envy of Britain, the mischief-maker, 
the pirate swayed only by low materialistic motives, which had destoyed this 
noble future for France and for Europe. 

Such is Napoleons apology. But I would give an incomplete outline of the 
Memorial, and would fail to account for the impression it made, were I to omit 
to add that not only is this apology embedded among anecdotes, reminiscences, 
and daily particulars of the mournful exile, but that no sense of inconsistency 
prevents the fallen Emperor from enlarging with inexhaustible complacency 
on his military achievements. The whole work glows with the glory which 
surrounds Napoleon even in his fall, and which the people of France share with 
him. The glory of France is the thought to which he constantly returns ; and what 
he did, he did for France. 


The Napoleonic legend was enriched from many sources, and it may well be 
said that the most important was Napoleon’s own downfall. Was it not easier 
to glorify him when he was no longer there to oppress men, and when his in- 
satiable demands had no longer to be satisfied? Chateaubriand says something 
of the sort in his Memoires cTOutre-Tombe. Here, though he repeats all his in- 
dictments, he allows free rein to the admiration which obsessed him and which 
forced him to compare his own career, from his birth in the same year, with that 
of the All-Powerful, to compare, to contrast, to extol, in particular in connexion 
with his own opposition. 

It is the fashion of the day [he writes] to magnify Bonaparte’s victories. Gone are 
the sufferers, and the victims’ curses, their cries of pain, their howls of anguish, are 
heard no more; exhausted France no longer offers the spectacle of women plough- 
ing her soil; no more are parents imprisoned as hostages for their sons, nor a whole 
village punished for the desertion of a conscript. No longer are the conscription 
lists stuck up at street comers, no longer do the passers-by crowd round long lists of 
death sentences to con them anxiously for the names of their children, their brothers, 
their friends, their neighbours. It is forgotten that everyone used to lament those 
victories, forgotten that the people, the Court, the generals, the intimates of 
Napoleon were all weary of his oppression and of his conquests, that they had had 
enough of a game which, when won, had to be played all over again, enough of 



that existence which, because there was nowhere to stop, was put to the hazard 
each morning. 1 

Indeed it was all forgotten. People were forgetting their dislike of despotism, 
now that they were faced with the Bourbons, their Court of emigres, and their 
priests, and now that France could harvest no new glory. They were forgetting 
it, as they saw the famous soldiers neglected by a despicable government. The 
opposition, the men of 1789, listened with emotion when General Foy voiced 
their complaints in the Chamber of Deputies, and praised them, and in them 
their dead leader. 2 Take the case of Beyle - Stendhal - who had been grumbling 
about trampled liberty while Napoleon lived, and who only now came truly 
under his spell. 3 The young people in his novels idolize Napoleon. Fabrice in 
La Chartreuse de Parme is an Italian, and in Stendhal’s own view the French con- 
quest of Italy meant an altogether desirable liberation from government by 
priests and obscurantism, while after Napoleon’s fall stupidity, senility, and cruelty- 
set the tone once more. 4 In Le Rouge et le Noir, s the action of which takes place 
in France, Stendhal proclaims his old dislikes through the mouth of an em- 
bittered republican, to whom Napoleon is merely the man who has restored all 
that monarchical nonsense and put the Church back on its pedestal again. But 
for Julien, the young Frenchman, Napoleon is a god, and the Memorial ‘the 
only book in the world, the guide of his life, and object of ecstatic admiration’. 
And yet he wants to be a priest ! But the lesson he gets from the book is that one 
must be accommodating, that with will-power you can achieve anything in 
life. The world no longer belongs to the man with the sword, courageous and 
gay, but to the soft-voiced, ruthless dissembler, in his cassock. 6 

That was a lesson indeed. Not everyone dared to learn it, and so perplexity, 
a sense of powerlessness, of being crippled, overcame a generation ‘begotten 
between two battles’. It was de Musset,? speaking with the melancholy voice 
of the romantics, who voiced their woes. He did not see in Napoleon that pro- 
fesseur d’dnergie proclaimed, as we shall see, to the French youth of a later age, nor 

1. in, 341. The Memoires d’Outre-Tombe appeared in i860, a few years after the death 
of Chateaubriand. 

2. Vaulabelle, Histoire des deux restaurations , v, p. 295 ff. 

3. A. Chuquet, Stendhal-Beyle (1902), chapter ‘Napoleon’. 

4. The tredici tnesi (1799-1800), when French rule was interrupted by an Austrian 
victory, appeared to Milan, according to Stendhal, as a return to gloom and darkness; 
only the monks and a few nobles like the Marquis del Dongo (the father of the hero), who 
‘professed a lively dislike of enlightenment’, were disappointed when Bonaparte won the 
battle of Marengo and the French returned. In 1810 the more amiable characters look 
back upon ‘ten years of progress and of happiness’. See La Chartreuse de Parme, 13, 17. 

5. The subsidiary title is Chronique de 1830. 

6. See note on Stendhal, p. 32 . 

7. Confession d’un Enfant du Siecle. 


did he know what to make of the advice ‘faites-vous pretre’ which, according 
to him too, was addressed to his youthful contemporaries from all sides. But 
among the dreary ruins of his day, what an impression the figure of the Emperor 
made on his imagination, how overwhelmingly mighty, inspiring a sense of 
oppression and of admiration alike ! 

No criticism, no cynical inferences, no despair, nothing but open-mouthed 
astonis hm ent at that supernatural good fortune, pity for that end, and a generous, 
satisfied acceptance of his glory as exalting all Frenchmen, and in particular the 
masses who had given him his soldiers - this is the reaction, as Balzac describes 
it, of peasants listening to an old soldier telling them about Napoleon’s career. 
It is a tale of miracles that is unfolded to them. 

The hero’s mother dedicated him to God, that he might raise religion from 
where it lay prostrate. And so he was invulnerable. Though his comrades fell 
aroundhim, the hail of bullets left him unharmed. His soldiers became accustomed 
to victories. Sometimes he would encircle and capture ten thousand of the 
enemy with but fifteen hundred Frenchmen. He began by conquering Italy, 
and the Kings grovelled before him. Was that a man like you or me? But in 
Paris they began to be afraid he might swallow up France too, and so they sent 
him to Egypt. ‘There you see his likeness to the Son of God.’ He promises land 
as booty to his soldiers. More miracles, and it was India’s turn, but then 
there came the plague. So he returns, to save France (that is, from the 

‘What have you done with my children, my soldiers?’ he asked the lawyers. 
He shuts them up in their chatter-barracks, and makes them dumb like fish, and 
flabby like tobacco pouches. The Pope and the Cardinals come in state to his 
imperial coronation. ‘Children,’ says he, ‘is it right that your Emperor’s relations 
should have to beg? Let’s go and conquer a kingdom for each of them.’ ‘Agreed,* 
answers the army. Those were good days ! Colonels became generals, generals 
became marshals, marshals became kings. More victories. * Vive l’Empereur ! ’ you 
cry as you die. Was that natural? Would you have done that for just an ordinary 
human being? 

Then comes his call to us to go and conquer Moscow, after all the other capitals, 
because Moscow had allied itself with England. Kings flock to lick his boots - 
difficult to say who is not there. The Poles, whom he wants to raise from their 
degradation, are our brothers. But the mysterious Man in Red, who has crossed his 
path more than once, warns him that men will abandon him, that his friends will 
betray him. Moscow: the fire: the fearful retreat. They say he wept at night for his 
poor family of soldiers . 1 

Betrayal as it was foretold, everywhere, even in Paris, so that he has to go away, 

i. Le Mededn de Campagne, 1832. 



and -without him the marshals commit one folly after another. Napoleon had 
fattened them up till they would no longer trot. Even now he makes splendid 
soldiers out of conscripts and civilians, but they melt away like butter on a grill, 
and at his back - the British ! They rouse the people to revolt, whispering non- 
sense in their ears. 

His abdication at Fontainebleau; he says good-bye to us and we cry like 
children. ‘Children, it is treason that has defeated us.’ He comes back with two 
hundred men, and this is the greatest miracle of all. "With them he conquers the 
whole of France. Waterloo ! But Napoleon cannot find Death. France is crushed, 
the soldiers despised, in their places noblemen who never bore arms. By treachery 
the English seize the Emperor and nail him to a rock in the ocean. In France they 
say now that he is dead, but that only shows they don’t know him ! * Vive 
Napoleon, the people’s and the soldiers’ father ! ’ 

This is indeed legend, and in its most naive form. As usual, the cry of betrayal 
goes up to mitigate the bewilderment and shame of defeat. But indeed in this 
story, so typical of Balzac, in whose pages we must not look for Stendhal’s 
critical spirit but who can bring reality to life with so fine an imaginative skill, 
are to be found all the elements needed to dazzle the common man unused to 
reasoning. He appeals to the craving for the miraculous, to the national self- 
conceit, to religious feeling, to rapacity, to republican and anti-aristocratic 
tendencies, and to the simple need to give hero-worship and trust. The fact that 
these elements conflict does not make the mixture any the less heady. Napoleon 
is the man of the hero-worshipping boy, the man of the dreamy poet, but he is 
also the man of the people. ‘The only king remembered by the people,’ thinks 
Stendhal’s Julien, hearing two workmen talking regretfully of the days of the 

But indeed Beranger, affecting in his bourgeois way a popular tone, at once 
frivolous and sentimental, lover of liberty and hater of priests and aristocrats, 
idealizing Napoleon in reaction to the Restoration, preferred to approach him 
through some old sergeant - memories of glory, of enthusiasm for liberty : the 
nations were made kings by our conquests, and crowned our soldiers with 
flowers, but our leaders, ennobled by him, have betrayed the good cause and 
flatter the tyrants. Let the People arise ! - or through an old woman who has seen 
the Emperor in his glory, and in his adversity received him in her hovel, and set 
before him dry bread and her sour local wine: 

H me dit: ‘Bonne esperance ! 

Je cours de tous ses malheurs 
Sous Paris venger la France.* 

II part; et, comme un tresor, 

J’ai depuis garde son verre. 



But he fell into the abyss. There was bitter sorrow. 

On parlera de sa gloire 

Sous le chaume bien longtemps. 

Bien, dit-on, qu’il nous ait nui, 

Le peuple encore le revere. 

‘One asks oneself,’ says Chateaubriand , 1 ‘by what sleight of hand Bonaparte, 
who was so much the aristocrat, who hated the people so cordially, has been 
able to obtain the popularity which he enjoys. For there is no gainsaying the 
fact that this subjugator has remained popular with a nation which once made 
it a point of honour to raise altars to independence and equality. Here is the 

‘It is a matter of daily observation that the Frenchman’s instinct is to strive 
after power; he cares not for liberty; equality is his idol. Now there is a hidden 
connexion between equality and despotism. In both these respects, Napoleon 
had a pull over the hearts of the French, who have a military liking for power 
and are democratically fond of seeing everything levelled. When he mounted 
the throne, he took the people with him. A proletarian king, he humiliated kings 
and noblemen in his ante-rooms. He levelled the ranks, not down but up. To 
have dragged them down to plebeian depths would have flattered the envy of the 
lowest; the higher level was more pleasing to their pride. French vanity, too, 
enjoyed the superiority which Bonaparte gave us over the rest of Europe. 
Another cause of Napoleon’s popularity is the affliction of his latter days. After 
his death, as his sufferings on St Helena became better known, people’s hearts 
began to soften; his tyranny was forgotten; it was remembered how, having 
vanquished our enemies and subsequently having brought them into France, he 
defended our soil against them; we fancy that if he were alive today he would 
save us from the ignominy in which we are living. His misfortunes have revived 
his name among us, his glory has fed on his wretchedness. 

‘The miracles wrought by his arms have bewitched our youth, and have taught 
us to worship brute force. The most insolent ambition is spurred on by his 
unique career to aspire to the heights which he attained.’ 

But Chateaubriand’s sombre warning was the voice of the past - or of the 
future. His contemporaries took refuge in illusion. So did Victor Hugo, who, 
in a manner quite different from that of Stendhal or Balzac or Beranger, found 
in the figure of the Emperor an outlet for his romantic longing for greatness, 
which was mysteriously combined with a love of freedom. In his ‘Ode to the 
Column - the triumphal column in the Place Vendome, from the top of which 

i. Memoires d’Outre-Tombe , iv, <5o. 



on 31 March 1814, the day of the Allies’ entry into Paris, a group of royalist 
noblemen with their plebeian hirelings had removed the statue of the Emperor 
- the poet, writing in 1830, dedicated to Napoleon ‘his youthful muse, singing 
nascent freedom’, and promised the departed hero that this generation, which, 
though it had not known him as master, honoured him as a god, would come 
and fetch him from his island grave. And what transports there are when ten 
years later his mortal remains actually return to Paris. ‘The blessed poets shall 
kneel before you; the clouds which obscured your glory have passed, and 
nothing will ever dim its true lustre again.* 

Sainte-Helene, le^on ! chute ! exemple ! agonie ! 

L’Angleterre, a la haine epuisant son genie, 

Se mit a devorer ce grand homme en plein jour. 

Jadis, quand vous vouliez conquerir une ville, 

Ratisbonne, ou Madrid, Varsovie ou Seville, 

Vienne l’austere, ou Naples au soleil radieux, 

Vous fronciez le sourcil, 6 figure ideale ! 

Alors tout etait dit. La garde imperiale 
Faisait trois pas comme les dieux. 

Tu voulais, versant notre s&ve 
Aux peuples trop lents k murir, 

Faire conquerir par le glaive 
Ce que l’esprit doit conquerir. 

Tu pretendais, vaste esp£rance ! 

Remplacer Rome par la France 
Regnant du Tage a la Neva; 

Mais de tels projets Dieu se venge. 

Duel efirayant ! guerre etrange ! 

Jacob ne luttait qu’avec l’ange, 

Tu luttais avec Jehovah 1 

Here are elements which we shall meet with in the writings of historians 
right down to our own time. Here you have pity for the hero’s personal fate, 
dislike for cold-blooded Britain, unregenerate pleasure in military power, and 
at the same time an attempt to give spiritual life to the great struggle by linking 
it to the spread of French thought all over Europe, to liberty, to world peace, 
so that the spectacle of the catastrophe may be lifted on to a higher plane. 

Victor Hugo voiced the spirit of the time in his poem, while Chateaubriand’s 
was an isolated independent view. This is true. Yet amid the chorus of adulation 
there were other discordant notes. One poem has remained famous; in it the 
Napoleonic legend is challenged and assailed with vivid force at the very moment 



of its clamorous emergence. It is all the more remarkable for the fact that the 
writer was a young man and spoke, not in the name of religion or of monarchy, 
but of liberty and republicanism. The young man was Auguste Barbier, and 
the poem L’Idole (1831). 

Everyone knows the lines: 

O Corse a cheveux plats ! que la France £tait belle 
Au grand soleil de messidor ! 

C’etait une cavale indomptable et rebelle, 

Sans frein d’acier ni renes d’or. 

The Corsican succeeded in controlling that marvellous animal, and rode it 
without pity, spurring it till the blood ran, pulling at the bit till its teeth broke, 
till it sank down dying - and crushed its rider. Certainly, cries Barbier (and here 
he is obviously aiming at Hugo), I too suffer from the memory of that humil- 
iating day when they pulled down the statue under the eyes of the foreigner, 
the day when French women bared their breasts to the Cossacks, but I heap my 
curses on one man only: ‘Be thou cursed, O Napoleon/ But the unholy image 
is set up again. 

Grace aux flatteurs melodieux, 

Aux po&tes menteurs, aux sonneurs de louanges, 

Cesar est mis au rang des dieux. 

Ah, ends the poet, good princes, wise men who lighten the peoples 9 chains: 

Le peuple perdra votre nom; 

Car ll ne se souvient que de rhomme qui tue 
Avec le sabre et le canon. 

The masses honour those who force them to carry stones to build their 
pyramids ; the masses are like a street girl who gives her love only to the man who 
beats her. . . . 


Stendhal consistently professed the most fervent admiration for Napoleon. In 
1837 he published a little book on the great man (‘the greatest man the world 
has ever seen since Caesar’ ; ‘the more becomes known of the truth, the greater 
Napoleon will be’). When one tries to analyse his conception, however, one is 
struck by the most flagrant contradictions. 

The book, although entitled Vie de NapoUon , describes in detail only the Italian 
campaigns, and indeed the writer says in so many words that ‘the truly poetic 



and perfectly noble part of Bonaparte’s life comes to an end with the occupation 
of Venice’ (1797)- He is careful not to say: the handing over of the Venetian 
Republic to Austria : with that betrayal he debits the Directorate and its baseness. 
Nevertheless: ‘Here end the heroic times of Napoleon.’ But in the preface, 
what he underlines as making out the greatness of Napoleon (‘the love for 
Napoleon is the only passion that is left to me’) is the fact that he ‘has civilized 
the people en le faisant propriStaire 9 . Also, that he has made it possible for every- 
body to win the cross of the Legion d'honneur , He places Napoleon in the direct 
lme of the Revolution: ‘The true founders of present-day France are Danton, 
Sieyes, Mirabeau, and Napoleon.’ Here, of course, he is thinking of the First 
Consul and Emperor. And while in other passages Napoleon is just the indom- 
itable and unsurpassable warrior, the embodiment of an energy about the purpose 
of which one is not supposed to bother one’s head, here he is annexed for the 
newly-propertied middle classes that had come into their own in 1830. This 
in spite of the fact that he was by no means blind to Napoleon’s fear of thejacobins 
and expressly deplores his weakness (when Emperor) for ex-royalists and aristo- 

Both in this veneration for th eprofesseur d’energte and in this extolling Napoleon 
as the liquidator of the old order, it is possible to construct a line connecting 
Stendhal with contemporary as well as with much later historians (we shall see 
striking instances in Madelin for the first and in Thiers for the second attitude 
of mind). His being in so conventionally French traditions, as well as the inerad- 
icable confusion reigning in his mind on this topic, will seem surprising only to 
those who accept the somewhat spurious reputation for ‘intelligence’ and 
‘independence’ that it has been fashionable to cultivate for Stendhal among 
succeeding generations of intellectuals after his death in 1842. 



Part 2 

The First Chroniclers 

i Francois Mignet 

One of the remarkable phenomena of the first generation after the fall of Napo- 
leon is the association of Napoleonic legend with radicalism. Indeed we found 
from Barbier’s hymn of hate that opposition under the banner of liberty and 
1789 was never interrupted. With regard to historical writing in the earliest 
period I shall draw attention only to Mignet’s short history of the French 
Revolution, which appeared in 1824, before the legend had really taken shape, 
but which was continually reprinted. This too was the work of a young man. 
Some hundred pages are devoted to the Consul-Emperor’s administration. 
With a few deft incisive strokes Mignet gives us the portrait of a despot who 
subordinated both the Revolution and the country to himself. 

The nation [says Mignet, speaking of the period of the Peace of Amiens] lay in 
the hands of the great man, or of the despot; his was the choice, either to preserve 
it in freedom or to enslave it. He preferred his ambitious schemes; he set himself 
above the rest of mankind, alone. Brought up in camps, a late arrival in the Revo- 
lution, he understood only its material side, the language of its interests. He believed 
neither in the moral cravings which had stirred up the Revolution nor in the 
convictions which had swayed it and which sooner or later were bound to emerge 
again and bring about his downfall. He saw a revolt approaching its end, a weary 
people delivering themselves up to him, and a crown which was his for the taking. 

For MLignet the Concordat was nothing more than Bonaparte’s plan to acquire 
domination over the Church, and, through the Church, over the people. He 
concludes his short account of it with the scornful reply of the general whom the 
First Consul asked how he liked the Te Deutn sung after the ratification (all the 
unbelieving generals of the Revolution had had to attend, whether they liked 
or not) : ‘Pretty monkish mummery ! Only those million men were absent who 
died to overthrow what you are setting up again.’ In the institutions Mignet sees 
nothing but their lack of freedom. The Press, the representative bodies are 
crippled and muzzled, the authorities and the courts exercise arbitrary power. 
In the wars of Napoleon he sees nothing hut an attempt to use Europe for his 
crazy dream of power. 

Yet was there not something more in these wars after all? 

As regards France, he was a counter-revolutionary because of his despotism, but as 



a conqueror of Europe he became a renovator. Several nations, which slumbered 
before he came, will live with the life he brought them. But in that Napoleon 
merely followed the dictates of his nature. Bom as he was from war, war remained 
his inclination and his joy. 

There is something doctrinaire and arid about this sketch; it lacks life. And 
life would result only from admiration inspiring an array of serious works; 
these in their turn brought about reconsideration - in which many of the young 
Mignet’s ideas would be seen to emerge. 

2 Baron Bignon 


The first historian who undertook a broad treatment of the subject, and whose 
work is still of value, is Bignon, whose Histoire de France depuis le 1 8 Brumaire 
began to appear in 1829. He died in the beginning of 1841, having brought his 
voluminous work as far as 1812. 1 His son-in-law, Emouf, took it up to the 
Battle of Leipzig, on the basis of his notes. 

In Napoleon’s will, signed at Longwood, on 15 April 1821, the thirty-second 
legacy reads as follows: ‘Item to Baron Bignon, one hundred thousand francs. 
I commission him to write the history of French diplomacy from 1792 to 1815.’ 

Bignon entered the diplomatic service in 1797, and had filled important posts 
under the First Consul and the Emperor in various German capitals and in 
Warsaw, in the capacity of Minis ter, sometimes also as Governor. In the foreword 
to the first part of his book he gave an account of himself intended to allay the 
suspicions of a supposed inquisitive reader - the general attitude to Napoleon 
was still rather unfavourable. 

It is true [he says, in effect] that I served Napoleon zealously, and that I flattered 
him. Who did not? It is also true that I was commissioned to write the book by the 
Emperor himself. Indeed I have the greatest admiration for him. 

Does that necessarily imply that he supports despotism? Certainly not. Since 
1817 he has sat in the Chamber of Deputies, on the left wing benches. ‘Having 
served glory for a long time, I have devoted the rest of my life to liberty/ Then 
you will let us have some slashing attacks on imperial tyranny? suggests the 
reader. But the writer, having affirmed his dislike of despotism, whatever its 
label, and having confessed that in his youth, in common with many others, he 
had succumbed to republican illusions, explains that the imperial despotism was 
a dictatorship, not - as Turgot desired - to establish liberty, but to build the 
supremacy of France in Europe. The Empire inspires thoughts of strength, 
greatness, and glory. Bignon declares himself satisfied with constitutional mon- 
archy, which through the Charter preserves the inheritance of the Revolution, 
and he would gladly see that strong, great, and glorious too. 

1. Eleven volumes; in 1842 there appeared a double-column edition in two quarto 
volumes, published in Brussels, from which I quote. 



For anyone familiar with French history, this career and this creed evoke an 
easily recognizable type. The officials who worked with Bonaparte from the 
beginning, and who remained faithful to him through every administrative 
metamorphosis, sprang from revolutionary origins. After them came the royalist 
rallies, whose principles were less outraged by the monarchical evolution of 
dictatorship, but who on the other hand found it all the more easy to conform 
when the Restoration came in 1814. The old republicans had accepted Bona- 
parte’s leadership because they considered that both the Revolution and the 
international position of France demanded a strong government. Unless their 
readiness to accept each successive stage in a conservative or frankly counter- 
revolutionary direction be ascribed entirely to concern for their own careers, 
it may be supposed that they were influenced by the glory and the power this 
matchless war hero was earning for their country. This particularly applied to 
a man like Bignon, whose official life was passed abroad. And it is perfectly 
natural that on the disappearance of this exceptional ruler he gave free rein once 
more to his old libertarian tendencies. The new government was far from strong. 
It could boast of no glittering triumphs won for a France forced back behind its 
old frontiers by the peace treaties and feeling cramped and sore, particularly 
over the loss of the Rhineland and Belgium, both conquered during the Revo- 
lution. Moreover the new government favoured priests and Jesuits. The point 
is important, for no old revolutionary Bonapartist could imagine Liberty as 
other than anti-clerical. 


What approach did Bignon make to the history of Napoleon? He was certainly 
no mere eulogist; indeed, he may be called remarkably independent. But before 
I illustrate this and attempt to define his limitations, I wish to deal briefly with 
his treatment of his material and to show what sources he had at his disposal. 

He did not confine himself to diplomatic history, as Napoleon had directed. 
In plan his work became a history of France during the period. He tends to adhere 
to the method of the chronicler, so that within certain limits of time chapters 
on foreign affairs succeed chapters on domestic matters. His documentation is 
fairly extensive. Not only was he able to use his own papers and those of many 
other contemporaries, but in 1829, when a relatively liberal government was 
in office to which the name of Napoleon was not merely a bogy, he extracted 
permission to delve into the actual archives, so that he was able, especially in the 
later portions of his work, to quote from official papers and above all from 
Napoleon’s own correspondence. He handled this material most intelligently. 
On a number of points the outline of events is firmly drawn by a man of ex- 



perience and insight, skilled in portraying the official point of view, and capable 
also from time to time of showing its disadvantages. His work bears throughout 
the hallmark of the Foreign Office official who is thoroughly at home in matters 
of state and is accustomed to a clear-cut and lucid presentation. 

When in the foreword to his seventh volume, however, he claims that the 
future historian worthy of Napoleon (he makes no pretence to be that man) 
will have need of no further discoveries, since his (Bignon’s) work presents him 
with so faithful an account of the real facts concerning political events, the modem 
reader can hardly help smiling. That ideal historian, according to Bignon, 
will merely have to produce a work of art, in which the facts are more agreeably 
presented, the whole is better arranged, the details beautified and the story made 
more fascinating by improvements in the composition and by the use of a more 
elevated and more brilliant style. 

He had no conception of the insatiable craving of later research workers to know 
more and know it more accurately, nor of the multiplicity of standpoints or 
of possible problems. The refinements of psychology and the bold flights of 
imagination were not for him. In short, he did not guess how never-ending 
would be the argument in which he was one of the first participants. 

The mistake is typical of the work. I have mentioned Bignon’s independence, 
but intimated that it had its limits. As a matter of fact it is severely circumscribed. 
Bignon the historian remains Bignon the diplomat, the official, Bonapartist 
to his finger tips. What makes his book so attractive is that its reader is offered 
access to the Napoleonic world. Even when he is critical, the writer takes for 
granted many things for the understanding of which we must grope backwards 
in time. 


Let us take as an example his account of the increasingly strained relations be- 
tween Napoleon and Pius VII, the Pope with whom the First Consul had con- 
cluded the Concordat, who had later come to Paris to crown the Emperor, and 
whose secular power was finally destroyed by decree in 1 809, his State, including 
Rome, being incorporated with France and he himself taken away as prisoner. 
We shall see this problem of the Church treated from various sides later on, hut 
I know no other account which makes Napoleon’s handling of the situation 
appear so completely reasonable and inevitable, if one accepts the Napoleonic 
point of view that the supremacy of the State and of the Emperor is irrefutable, 
and that all resistance to it is evidence of unendurable clerical ambition and 
medieval backwardness. 1 The matter is handled calmly; the opposition is neither 

1. 11, 201. 



abused nor belittled. There is even a sympathetic sketch of the Pope, who re- 
remarked that having lived like a lamb he should know how to die like a lion. 


In dealing with foreign policy, Bignon undoubtedly shows his independence. 
Though the power and glory of France come first for him, though he served 
Napoleon so faithfully for these very ends, and still admires him on their account, 
he is not blind to the excesses, to the untenable position into which the regime 
had strayed. He dates this development somewhat late. 

From the 18th Brumaire [he writes at the beginning of his seventh 1 volume] up 
to the Peace of Tilsit [that is, the peace of 1807, which was to establish amity instead 
of war with Alexander I of Russia, and by which Prussia lost half its territory and 
the subjection of Germany was confirmed] the greatness of France had steadily 
increased in the most marvellous fashion, but it could still be justified by the defen- 
sive nature of the wars from which it sprang, and it was still capable of consolidation. 

Much might be said of the defensive nature ofthose wars, against Englandin 1803, 
against Russia and Austria in 1805, against Prussia in 1806, and I shall say some- 
thing of this later. 3 The possibility, again, of consolidating French rule not only 
in the Low Countries and the Rhineland, but also in the whole of Germany 
and Italy seems dubious. 

But from that moment [Bignon continues] the Empire, although still outwardly 
expanding, was to lose in real strength what it gained in territory. Napoleon 
understood as well as anyone how little durability there could be in an indefinite 
expansion. He could perfectly distinguish between that which was permanently 
necessary to the power of France, and that which appertained only to his own reign. 
‘After me,’ he said, with reason, ‘after me the Rhine, the Alps, and the Pyrenees.* 
And indeed, these were the conquests of France, the rest were his own. 

It was certainly nothing unusual, even in the circles closest to Napoleon, to 
make this distinction between his earlier policy and that of his later years, be- 
tween France's and his own private policy. The principal exponent of this 
view, even during the regime, was, as we shall see later, Talleyrand. It has 
remained current also among historians. But Napoleon himself rejected it 
wholeheartedly, in spite of Bignon’s quotation. Many of his pronouncements 
at St Helena were solely intended to give the lie to this very distinction, and 

1. Second, in the Brussels edition. ' n 

2. See, for example, p. 242 ff.; p. 270 ff.; p. 281 ffi Bignon affirms the justice of 
Napoleon’s wars as of his peace conditions in 1805: Book 1, 424, 482. 



as we shall also see, many later writers were more influenced in this respect by 
the legend than was the practical, able, and sober Bignon. 

Thus Bignon does not in the least hesitate to condemn Napoleon for certain 
excesses to which his power policy led him. The notorious Convention of 
Bayonne (1808), where the Spanish Bourbons were tricked and bullied into 
abdication, he described frankly as * an ambush’, and compared it with the crimes 
of Tiberius - a piece of erudition calculated to appeal to the prevailing fashion 
for tilings Roman. It is noteworthy that Bignon is here following the very 
writer - the bitter Tacitus - whom Napoleon could not forgive for his vilifica- 
tion of the Caesars. 

Nevertheless the way in which even this writer deals with events in general 
gives us some clue to the reasons why French public opinion was for so long 
impressed by Napoleon’s successes and by his methods. The joy in the military 
triumphs of France, the scornful relish of her enemies’ discomfiture, the taunts 
- to take one example at random - when Russia and England deserted their ally 
the Kingdom of Naples after Austerlitz, in spite of their previous eloquent 
protestations, removing the troops they had there just at the moment when they 
were needed - such reactions show just how much the French identified them- 
selves with their Emperor. 

Throughout Bignon is particularly hostile to the British. Not that he allows 
himself to be carried away into declamatory tirades. Indeed he never departs 
from his flat diplomatic style, and remains throughout matter of fact and business- 
like. The argument, for instance, in which he maintains that Napoleon’s attitude 
to the Continental System was completely reasonable is well worth reading. 1 
He points out that the Emperor did not introduce it as being in itself lawful, 
but as a measure which was forced on him by the illegal nominal blockade 
proclaimed by the British, in which the neutral states were obliged, however 
unjustly, to acquiesce. Similarly, in a different class of matters entirely - though 
his judgement here is even more one-sided and lacks that insight into the opposite 
point of view which the historian should have - one might quote his defence of 
the severe sentence passed in Nuremberg on the bookseller Palm, who was shot 
in 1806 by the French army of occupation for distributing inflammatory litera- 
ture.® Bignon admits that in the peaceful and kindly Germany of that time 
nothing did more harm to the good name of France. Yet he unhesitatingly 
accepts the ruling of the laws of war as conclusive, and his dispassionate logical 
argument provides a revealing picture of the way in which the official mind 
works in such cases. But it is always the supporter of the regime speaking. 

1. n, 28 flf. 2. 1, 560. 




For all that, Bignon does show his independence in the way he discusses ‘des- 
potism*. In 1800, after an attempt on the First Consul’s life, penal measures were 
rushed through, without a trial, and the wrong men suffered. In dealing with 
this case, on which I shall have more to say later, Bignon expresses sharp dis- 
approval, 1 and although he tries to find excuses for the killing of the Due 
d’Enghien - this, too, I reserve for fuller treatment - he does not defend it. The 
creation of a new nobility, so characteristic of the reactionary tendencies of 
Napoleon’s administration, he roundly declares to be in contravention of the 
principles of the Revolution dear to the majority of the French people. It is 
possible to detea a personal note in his complaint that abroad, ‘where hitherto 
every French citizen enjoyed a prestige like that of the civis Romams in the palmy 
days of the Republic, and where the whole French nation was regarded as the 
cream of humanity*,* the distinaion now made had the effect of degrading 
those who had no share in the new honours. 

Such comments are, however, no more than incidental. Bignon refers with 
due respea to Mme de Stael and her friends (which can by no means be said of 
all later writers), but he is not so shocked by her banishment at the resumption 
of the war with England as the famous literary lady and Benjamin Constant 
would have liked the whole world to be. His exposition is shrewd, his estimate 
of the element of self-esteem just, and he is certainly right in thinking that it 
was not only Mme de Stael’s brilliant conversation, but also the fact that her 
salon was a centre of the opposition, which earned her Napoleon*s disfavour. 
Yet, having pointed out how small the minority was which gathered round 
her, and that the First Consul, as he then was, had offered her terms, he regards 
the subjea as closed. The diaatorship itself, sensitive to the slightest opposition, 
he accepts. 3 


What delighted Bignon most, apart from military conquests, were the material 
benefits which accrued to France from that ever-watchful vigilance and care, 
that readiness of the ruler to use his power to get things done. And to those 
inclined to make fun of the adulations of his Minister for Internal Affairs (up to 
1807 it was Champagny) in the annual reports in which these wonders were 
vaunted, Bignon would point out that the Emperor, ‘nearly always animated 

1. p. 93b ff., p. 94 ff. 2. 11, 42b. 


3 - 1, 307. 


by generous feelings, passionately desirous of the good, and intelligent in bis 
desire*, at least worked hard for his glory . 1 * He prefers to base his chronicle, and 
is deservedly proud of the fact, upon the actual orders and plans to be found in 
the Emperor's own correspondence; and even so, what a magnificent picture I a 
Bignon allows himself a smile when he finds the Emperor meditating measures 
to improve literary criticism; he knows Napoleon's ‘habit of mixing the State 
up in everything' sometimes leads him ‘to take the wrong turning '. 3 Neverthe- 
less the Emperor's aims and most of the time even his actions in the sphere of 
spiritual matters fill bim with the purest admiration. 

When he deals, for instance, with the Emperor's complete control over 
education, he does permit the voice of criticism to be heard for a moment, but 
among the reasons for the inevitability of the system he mentions not only 
Napoleon's dictatorial character, but the needs of a new regime, and the example 
offered both by the republics of antiquity and the Emperor’s immediate revolu- 
tionary predecessors. ‘Whether one agrees or not with his ideas on this delicate 
matter* - the political struggle during the Restoration had at least taught him 
that the matter was a delicate one - ‘one must acknowledge that he was ever 
striving after what is good, that he was ever desirous of ennobling humanity 
through the education of the mind, and of preparing the way for generations 
which would contribute to the glory and well-being of the State .' 4 When it 
comes to the institution of the University, that formidable corporation whose 
task it was to wield the State monopoly in education, the point that seems of 
most interest to Bignon is that of the party affiliation of the Grand Master . 5 
Fontanes, Chateaubriand’s protector, was one of those supporters of the old 
regime who came to enjoy Napoleon’s especial favour. Bignon calls him a man 
of the clerical party, in opposition to that of the ‘philosophers ', 6 and he is specially 
concerned to show that Napoleon was not really an enemy to progress, as 
though there were no more in it than that. On the significance of the University 
we shall be hearing comments of a very different character. 

i. i, 500b. 2. 11, 155a. 

3. 1, 667. 4. 1, 49ib. 

5. 11, 156a. Grand Master was the title of the Rector of the University. 

6. The usual word for the rationalists of the Encyclopedia. Freethinkers would be 

another word for them. 

3 Armand Lefebvre 


In 1845 two great works began to appear. They were Armand Lefebvre’s 
Histoire des cabinets de VEurope pendant le Consulat et l’ Empire and Thiers’s Histoire 
du Consulat et de I’Empire, a continuation of his youthful Histoire de la Revolution 
frangaise, completed nearly twenty years earlier. Thiers’s book became the great 
popular history of Napoleon. Volume succeeded volume in an inexhaustible 
stream, until by 1862 all twenty had appeared. In spite of the magnitude of the 
work, its success was overwhelming. For a generation Thiers’s was the last 
word on the subject, and his book overshadowed that of Lefebvre. Lefebvre, 
who was a few years younger than Thiers, being bom in 1800, a diplomat, and 
the son of a diplomat who had served Napoleon, suffered from this. 1 It is true 
that his hook, the unattractive title of which conceals a history of Bonaparte’s 
foreign policy, cannot stand comparison with that of Thiers for pace, fullness, 
and colour. Nevertheless it has its own special qualities. Even though the writer 
sets his diplomatic history in its wider background - the development of the 
Revolutionary idea and of the Consular and Imperial regime in France - the limits 
imposed by the subject give his work more unity. This becomes apparent when 
one compares him with Bignon. The contrast makes the latter take on even more 
the appearance of a chronicler, while in Lefebvre one can appreciate the attempt 
at truly historical presentation. 

Lefebvre had his own interpretation of Bonaparte and his statesmanship, 
which he develops with a sure touch. The actual narrative is not the most impor- 
tant part of his book. His documentation is not up to present-day standards. 
Though he did draw from archive material he failed to consult non-French 
sources, in itself an irreparable omission in a book dealing with a subject of this 
nature. For all his positive tone, he is often wide of the mark, particularly in 
dealing with aims and motives. His style lacks personality. "What makes his book 
worth examination is his view of the subject as a whole, his generalizations, his 
interpretation of the central figure in relation to the course of events. "We shall 
see directly that he has much in common with Bignon, not only in descent 

1. According to Sainte-Beuve in one of his Causeries du Lundi, reprinted before the 
first volume of the edition which was edited and completed by the writer’s son in 1866. 1 
quote from this edition. 


and circumstances, but also in spirit. He too accepts the bourgeois ideals of the 
Revolution, supports anti-clericalism, equality, and even liberty, but his chief 
enthusiasm is reserved for the greatness and power of France. 


Lefebvre is more consistently realistic, in a sense, than Bignon, as appears from 
the introduction in which he discusses the rise of Bonaparte and the coup d’etat 
of the 1 8 th-i 9 th Brumaire. The vigour of the reconstruction is certainly striking. 
The situation of France before the coup d’etat is described as critical, what with 
administrative confusion, bitter popular unrest - the backwash of ten revolu- 
tionary years - leaders irresolute and incompetent, and all Europe watching for 
an opportunity to suppress that power which, after bursting forth with irresis- 
tible force during the first passionate confident years, was still sufficiently dis- 
quieting. The coup d’etat was thus not only beneficial but absolutely essential. 
Given this view, there is no further need of argument concerning justice or 
injustice or the propriety of Bonaparte’s ambition. 

Once in the saddle, he had three courses open to him, according to Lefebvre. 
He could have accepted the support of the royalists, and brought about a restora- 
tion, but that would not appeal to a man who wished to be himself the master, 
and who was in any case aware that a restoration of the ancien regime , however 
strong the reactionary element, would arouse uncompromising resistance and 
bring to a head the latent civil war. He could have cooperated with the Jacobins, 
who wished for nothing better, but that would have meant a resumption of the 
war in its most revolutionary form, and a European convulsion which would 
not have accorded with Bonaparte’s ideas ; moreover he would in that case have 
had to share control of France with Jacobin clubs and radical demagogues, hardly 
a prospect to please a general ‘who only loved popular energy when clad in 
military uniform’. 1 There remained the broad central mass of public opinion, 
tolerably satisfied with the social reforms of the Revolution and anxious to re- 
tain these, but longing for stability. Order, that was the slogan which Bonaparte 
understood, unity, an end to all that interminable bickering, a sweeping away 
of the parties, a chance to enjoy the fruits of the Revolution, work, reconstruction 
- and peace. But it must be a peace which would consolidate the powerful 
position that had been won. 

Once in the saddle - but the horse was not yet quite broken in. After the coup 
d’itat came a constitution (that of Year Vm) which still imposed certain parlia- 
mentary limitations on the dictator’s power. From the beginning, Bonaparte 
secretly meditated shaking himself free from these limitations, to gam undisputed 

1. 1, 13. 


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control of France. ‘The constitution was not granted in good faith.* 
This calm statement, and still more the remark which follows, show Lefebvre’s 
realism: 1 

And it could not be. There were lies everywhere, in words as in things. The 
nation, monarchical in its traditions, republican in its ideas, was all unconsciously a 
prey to the strangest contradictions ... It was only through dissimulation and con- 
cealment and tricks that he was able to carry out successfully the most formidable 
undertaking ever shouldered by mortal man. 

What was this undertaking? To reconcile the French people, to break resistance 
in the Vendee and elsewhere, to bridge antitheses, to bring into line the Church, 
which in the words of Lefebvre had been made, through the Concordat, ‘one 
of the most useful instruments of his government*; 2 in short to establish that 
unity under strong authority which was necessary to safeguard both France and 
the fruits of the Revolution against an envious and covetous Europe. 

But could it stop there? After Marengo and Amiens, Bonaparte feels strong 
enough to throw out the opposition in the Tribunate ; the more obedient Senate, 
too, is muzzled in 1802 by an appeal over the heads of the representative bodies 
to the people, who, blinded by his victories, make Bonaparte Consul for life 
by three and a half million votes to 8000. Having described all this, Lefebvre 

If God does not teach moderation to this man to whom he has given so much 
might, he will sooner or later abuse his good fortune and commit errors likely to 
jeopardize the future of a whole peopled 

But is not this a somewhat belated reflection? Was not this possibility already 
implicit in the coup d'etat, and was the 18th Brumaire in fact so fortunate a date 
in the history of France? Lefebvre does not draw this conclusion, and yet he 
says, and repeats at various points, that Bonaparte’s first mistake, a fatal one, 
the source of all the disasters which later overtook France, had been committed 
before 1802. 


This was the peace of Luneville concluded with Austria in 1801, after her con- 
clusive defeats, by Bonaparte himself in Italy at Marengo, and by Moreau in 
Germany at Hohenlinden. This peace, argues Lefebvre, could and should have 
been a peace of reconciliation.* ‘We had two great enemies in the world, one 
1. 1, 26. 2. 1, 194. 3. 1, 209. 4* t, 94* 


Armand lefebvre 

continental, that is Austria, and one naval, that is Britain.* Together they were 
already sufficiently formidable, and there was the possibility that if they both 
continued hostile, the two remaining powers, Russia and Prussia, with whom 
France’s relations were in a state of flux, might join them. Such a four-power 
coalition would endanger the Revolution and even the nation. ‘The First Consul 
should have taken thought, should have called up all the percipience of his 
powerful intellect, and should have spared his country this terrible and pre- 
carious hazard.’ To this end he should have broken the alliance between Britain 
and Austria for ever, by concluding a real peace with one or the other. In practice 
this meant with Austria, for Lefebvre is firmly convinced that Britain was irre- 

He paints a highly coloured picture of Britain, as a country whose social con- 
dition made war necessary for the ruling class (the ‘British oligarchy’, the ex- 
pression which Napoleon also favoured). "War was the only means by which 
to distract the people’s attention from that oligarchy’s policy of disinheriting 
the yeomen and sequestrating the land. The money-grubbing middle class, 
caught by a fever of speculation, could be induced to see in war the means of 
conquering world markets. A genuine peace with such an England would have 
been possible only at the price of renunciation of all naval, colonial, and indus- 
trial power. The surrender of Antwerp and Egypt, of San Domingo and Loui- 
siana, of the merchant navy, of the French principles of maritime law (the prin- 
ciple that the flag protects the cargo, ‘that sacred and inalienable principle’, as 
the writer calls it elsewhere), 1 would hardly have sufficed, according to Lefebvre, 
to conciliate Britain. Thus he does not blame the First Consul if the peace of 
Amiens was merely a truce. It could be nothing more, owing to Britain’s in- 
satiable lust fbr power. (As we shall see, this point, which I shall not discuss further 
at the moment, was to give rise later to not a little difference of opinion.) 

In passing, however, it must be noted that this view of Britain, as unfavourable 
as Bignon’s, dominates the whole of Lefebvre’s work. In fact, with his emphatic 
humourless style, he surpasses his predecessor in vituperation. According to 
him the British are always concocting new deceits and committing cowardly 
crimes. Coldly egoistical, unflinchingly heartless, they trample on the weak, 
desert the victims of their fair promises, and smugly count their gains. 3 

But Austria was another matter. Only, she should have been allowed a free 
hand in Italy, and Germany east of the Rhine should have been left alone. The 
archiepiscopal electors of Cologne, Mayence, and Treves should have been com- 
pensated on the other side of the Rhine. Thus Austria would have been satisfied, 

1. i, 114. 

2. See for example 1, 60, 66; 113, 134; 11, 5: ‘Un peuple froid, calculateur, qui 
n’estime la gloire qu’ autant qu’elle s’escompte en argent.’ And so on. 



the spectre of coalition would have been laid, and ‘master of our movements, 
we might have risen to our full height against our great naval enemy, confront- 
ing him face to face, and landing on his coast in order to strike at the heart of his 
power, all without the fear of a diversion on the Rhine’. 1 

Instead of this, Bonaparte at Luneville took pitiless advantage of the power 
given to him by his victories. By the peace of Campo Formio the Directorate had 
deprived Austria of all her Italian possessions (in exchange, it is true, for Venice). 
Although Lefebvre does not say so, this had in fact been Bonaparte’s own ar- 
bitrary policy, imposed on the Directorate after his first Italian triumphs in 
1796. Subsequently, indeed, the Directorate had proceeded with it con amove . 
That had been the first step in the wrong direction. But now, instead of turning 
back, the First Consul went further. Venice, too, was taken from Austria, and 
in Germany all the powers through which Austria was accustomed to work - 
not only the ecclesiastical electors and all the clerical nobility and corporations, 
but the knights ‘immediate to the Empire* - were dispossessed, for the sake of 
strengthening the States of the centre (particularly Bavaria, always jealous of 
Austria) and setting them all against her. 

Is there any point in wishing to discount what has happened and make one’s 
own programme of action, for the benefit of an earlier generation? Lefebvre 
recognizes that its realization would have met with almost insuperable difficul- 
ties. Fired with enthusiasm for the magnificent role which seemed prepared for 
her on the continent, France would not have understood voluntary renunciation 
of the fruits of her sacrifices. To give up Italy would indeed have damaged trade 
interests and the control of the Mediterranean vital for the maintenance or the 
reconquest of Egypt. But above all Bonaparte regarded Italy as his special domain. 
He desired to rouse the Italians from their age-long sleep, to awake their national 
feelings. And he was the last man to recoil from future dangers. 

He was passionately keen on war, because he excelled in warfare. He favoured it 
above all as a means of rousing the nation and of impressing it, of strengthening 
his authority, and of establishing his dynasty. He thought himself able to reduce 
both Austria and England, and clever enough to make Prussia and Russia his allies. 

In writing thus, Lefebvre is not so much laying down the law for the past, 
as trying to explain and to establish responsibility, which he tends to divide 
between the French people, in their intoxication, and the dictator, thirsting for 
power and action, whom they had wished on themselves. 

From the womb of that fatal peace treaty [he concludes] have issued our glory as 
well as our disasters. It was no doubt a magnificent and an epic undertaking to bring 
about the rebirth of Italy; but at the end there yawned a chasm. For fifteen years 

1. 1* 99* 



we did nothing but win victories and conquer countries, and what was the result 
of all that greatness? The treaties of 1815 and the martyrdom of St Helena. 

We have seen that Bignon makes 1807 a landmark, and only begins to shake 
his head at Napoleon’s foreign policy after that date. Lefebvre sets the beginning 
of the disaster much earlier, and from the point of view of historical perspective 
there is something attractive about his more organic, more concrete interpreta- 
tion of events. We shall see the problem viewed from entirely different angles 
by later authors, but at times, and making allowances for appreciable differ- 
ences, we shall recognize Lefebvre’s approach. 


It should be noted, however, that Lefebvre does not always bear in mind the 
thesis which he has propounded so firmly. He is carried away by his admiration 
for Napoleon and his dislike of France’s enemies. He describes, for example, how 
the Emperor, having subdued Austria in 1806, overthrows Prussia also, and is 
then faced with a situation which inspires him to ever more ambitious schemes, 
to the subjugation of half Europe and the foundation of le Grand Empire based 
on his brothers’ vassal kingdoms. He is under no illusion as to this being ‘ a terrible 
situation’. ‘Our own errors, our enemies’ acts of violence, our disasters at sea* 
(Trafalgar) have brought it about. That is his first comment, but he goes on to 
conclude that 

it was inexorable Fate, and not, as has been alleged, a contemptible dynastic pride, 
which compelled Napoleon to undertake this gigantic scheme. For seven years we 
shall see him, with incomparable mental vigour and consistency carrying it out. 

If inexorable Fate, then what of ‘our errors’? In this passage Lefebvre sounds 
a note of admiration which makes one wonder whether he was in fact able to 
discern his hero’s faults. The answer is that the whole of his work is full of con- 
tradictions in this respect. That this is nothing unusual, we have already seen 
in the case of Bignon; and we shall find further examples. 

No, Lefebvre is certainly not blind to Napoleon’s faults. He sees the coarse- 
ness of his behaviour towards the Pope when the latter resists incorporation in 
Napoleon’s power system. 1 He does not gloss over the stupidity and treachery 
ofBayonne. 2 He says somewhere, and with truth, that diplomacy was Napoleon’s 
‘weak spot’. 3 

Here he was in every way at a disadvantage, and not the least in respect of his own 
character. Reared in the army camp, more aware of fact than of law, like all 
military men, too great a commander not to enjoy the gruesome game of war more 
than was good for his country’s interests, he lacked in habit of mind and in method 

1. in, 257. 2. 111, 460, 501, 512. 3. hi, 126. 



the moderation, patience, and delicate dexterity which the art of negotiation in its 
highest form demands. 

Elsewhere Lefebvre remarks that he was only too much inclined to use for tills 
purpose military men like himself, General Beumonville, for example, * tough 
and imperious with a mouth full of threats, his favourite argument being war 
and the sword ’. 1 

The writer seems to shrink from drawing general conclusions from these 
and similar observations, however. He generally palliates them, and cools his 
irritation and disapproval on the enemies of France, on Britain of course in 
particular. We see again and again, and not only when he is attacking the 
British, how much his mind is under the spell of the system. Sometimes the sort 
of fatalism which he professes seems designed especially to serve as an apology 
for Napoleon and for France. Nevertheless, and without for a moment wishing 
to subscribe to this fatalistic interpretation, it cannot be denied that the author 
thereby contributed a fertile idea to Napoleonic literature. 

i. i, i 93- 

4 Adolphe Thiers 


I have already said that Thiers’s Histoire du Consulat et de V Empire was a work 
in twenty volumes 1 (of at least five hundred pages each), that it appeared be- 
tween 1845 and 1862, and that it was a tremendous success. Apparently Thiers 
wrote more quickly than the printer could print, since his afterthoughts on the 
completed work date from as far back as 1855. Merely as a physical feat the 
Histoire du Consulat et de VEmpire is quite out of the ordinary. 

Thiers was from Provence, like Mignet, his contemporary, and the two were 
close friends. Already in Thiers’s earliest work on the Revolution, however, it 
is clear that they were poles apart in their ideas. Since that time Thiers had be- 
come immersed in politics. He was made for the daily hurly-burly and the 
struggle for power. He was one of the journalists who gave impetus to the 
revolution of 1830, and under Louis Philippe he was soon in the government. 
In 1840, as Prime Minister, he almost involved France in war with Britain. He 
was now in opposition to his successor, the conservative, cautious, peace-loving 
Guizot (also a first-rate historian), who negotiated an entente cordiale with England. 
To glorify Napoleon as the implacable enemy of British imperialism was for 
Thiers a form of opposition to Guizot. Thiers also paid homage to Napoleon 
as the representative of the Revolution, the Revolution as it was understood 
by the bourgeoisie, and as the creator of unparalleled gloire. During his 
premiership Thiers had given a powerful impetus to the cult of Napoleon, 
which had been flourishing for a long time, by arranging for his remains to be 
brought back in state to France. Even before 1830, the parliamentary opposition 
used the name of Napoleon as the symbol of enlightenment and progress against 
the reactionary tendencies of the monarchy. After 1830, too, the memory of 
the heio, the leader who had given greatness to France, spelled danger to that 
unimaginative dreary middle-class monarchy, under which, as Lamartine testi- 
fied immediately before the revolution of 1848, the French people became so 
bored. Radicals and republicans appropriated the memory, and while he was 
busy with his great work Thiers suddenly woke up to find himself in a Republic, 
and was thereafter surprised in an even less pleasant fashion by the rise of Bona- 
partism and of Napoleon HI. 

1. I quote from the two-column edition published in Brussels in six volumes, and more 
readily available in Holland. 



It would be most unjust to give the impression that Thiers’s history was nothing 
more than a piece of propagandist writing. It was a respectable attempt to make 
a readable and orderly story out of the material on Napoleon which, though not 
nearly as extensive then as now, was already overwhelming. Thiers, too, made 
use of Napoleon’s correspondence, then preserved at the Louvre, and also of 
course of whatever was available in the way of memoirs and documents of every 
description. Thus he was able to gain an impression of the infinitely varied 
industry of the ruler and the general. In this he was not breaking new ground, 
for Bignon had been before him. Indeed, he was in a sense the ideal historian 
for whom his modest predecessor had hoped. Lefebvre will have had his own 
thoughts on the subject, but the public was delighted. 

Nor was the public wrong. Thiers is a master of historical narrative. One’s 
first impression is of the unfailing lucidity of his presentation, throughout the 
work, hi spite of its broad flow, its circumstantial manner, it holds the attention 
by its perfect clarity, logical arrangement, and orderly divisions. Knowledge 
of human nature and practical experience of political life inform it. In short, it 
is a triumph of ‘intelligence’, the attribute which, according to his own view, 1 
the historian must possess before all others. Shall we admit that the ‘true super- 
iority’ of the historian must be rooted therein? It must be said that his account 
has not thereby acquired profundity. Thiers asks no ultimate questions, he is 
quite content with answers that are little short of conventional, and his unfailing 
and plausible eloquence enables him to steer round any number of unsolved 
problems and contradictions. 3 But we need not judge him by his own standard. 
He possesses other qualities. He may not be witty, nor will he surprise; but when 
his story asks for dramatic effects or contrasts (and how could a history of Napo- 
leon fail to do so?) he can rise to the occasion. In the last volumes, for example, 
his emotion at the disasters which his hero brings on himself and his country is 
genuine, and inspires some really forceful writing. 

Thiers shows the influence of the Napoleonic legend more clearly than either 
of the two previous writers. This does not mean that he admires Napoleon 
more, or is less inclined to criticize. It means that he accepted a certain r/- fling 
of the figure, and of the aims, which had been suggested by Napoleons own 

He is critical of Napoleon, and more so as he proceeds. One might say that 
while before 1848 circumstances favoured the tendency to admire Napoleon, 
they made for an attitude of greater reserve when the later volumes were written. 
Thiers was not enamoured of the irresponsible and anti-parliamentarian activities 

1. Avis au lecteur, before volume xii, 1855; Brussels edition after volume in. 

2. Typical of the grande histoire. De Sacy feared that the increasing amount of historical 
criticism would put a check on this: Fruin, Verspreide Geschriften , ix, 355 ft. 



of the great man’s nephew. But the more critical spirit of the later volumes was 
entirely in keeping with their subject. The further Napoleon advances in his 
career, the more difficult it is for the eulogist to findjustification, in respect not of 
the general but of the statesman. Even at that stage, though he makes much of 
the dangers of despotism, with an eye to the new Emperor, Thiers excuses the 
faults of Inis hero wherever it is possible, and where it is impossible discusses 
them more in sorrow than in anger. He is critical; but in all the volumes, and 
especially the last, the dominant motif is admiration, and more than admiration 
- affection, love. 

THE general; the son of the revolution 
Perhaps I should mention first the intense interest Thiers felt in the art of war. 
I shall have little to say of Napoleon the general in this book. His greatness in 
this capacity is obvious, from his first amazing successes in Italy to the last won- 
derful defence on French soil in his adversity. The comprehensive view of 
positions, the eye for the key point, the capacity to read the mind of his opponent, 
the ability to take quick decisions, a personality powerful enough to impose 
obedience, all these qualities Napoleon possessed in their highest form. If the 
fact has sometimes been denied, it has only been in a paradoxical fashion or from 
hatred of the man, and no historian of any importance has ever done so. 1 Tol- 
stoy’s view of him in War and Peace is fundamentally unhistorical, even anti- 
historical; and he reduces the statesman too to nothing. 

My object is to discuss the various opinions concerning the statesman, and 
concerning the political significance of the personality and achievements of 
Napoleon. But one would give an imperfect impression of Thiers’s Histoire 
du Consulat et de V Empire if one failed to point out the important part played in 
it by Napoleon’s battles. Thiers’s description of them is not only detailed, it 
shows a real understanding. The military experts of his day were loath to recog- 
nize his competence, although in 1870, when the old man was sought out to 
lead the country after its defeat, they felt some uneasiness in the presence of the 
politician who had so earnestly warned them. Marshal Foch, the general of a 
later generation, declared that it was from Thiers’s book that he had learnt to 

As regards Napoleon the statesman, for Thiers the peak of his career came at 
the outset. He recognizes this already in describing that early triumph: 

The man who ruled France from 1799 to 1 8 1 5 knew, no doubt, days of intoxicating 
glory m the course of his career, but surely neither he himself nor the France over 

1. Unless it be G. Ferrero, in his little book Aventure (1938). 



which he cast his spell ever again lived through such days as these, days whose 
greatness was accompanied by so much wisdom, and by that wisdom which 
prompts the hope of durability. 1 

These words follow his account of the bringing of law and order, of victory, 
(Marengo), of peace (Luneville and Amiens), of reconciliation (the Concordat 
and the amnesty), and his description of the public’s amazement at the part 
played by the young soldier in the Council of State towards the completion of 
the new Civil Code. 

It is not only the statesman’s strength and wisdom which Thiers admires. 
He sees in him, with fewer reserves than Bignon and Lefebvre, and in accordance 
with Napoleon’s own presentation of himself, the consolidator of the Revolu- 
tion at home and its promoter abroad. Above all, unlike Chateaubriand and 
Mme de Stael, he sees in him the good Frenchman. As Napoleon proclaimed 
at every stage of his life, as the French people were assured in countless proclama- 
tions and speeches, as the voice from St Helena tirelessly repeated, so did Thiers 
believe: that the mainspring of his life was his fierce love of France, her honour 
and her might, his desire to further her true interests. 

Nevertheless Thiers considers that Napoleon’s policy was to blame for the 
disasters which ended his career and which engulfed France, that personal 
ambition and lust for conquest had a share in luring the peace-giver of 1801 and 
1862 on the adventurous road which was to lead to Waterloo. He explains this 
as the corruption of a beneficent character by superhuman success, and some- 
times, again, as the ravaging of a great spirit, in spite of the highest intentions, 
by a passionate temperament. He places the first fatal change of course only after 
Austerlitz (2 December 1805). This amazing victory inspired in Napoleon the 
dangerous belief that his genius and the power of France were invincible and 
made him lose all sense of moderation. 2 The conquest of Prussia in 1806 and 
her humiliation in 1807 were tremendous events, but they drew France outside 
her natural sphere of action. The conquest of the whole of Germany, the dizzy 
edifice erected at Tilsit in 1807, exceeded the limits of caution and of self- 
knowledge. And yet Thiers even then ventures to speculate that ‘had not more 
and more been heaped upon the groaning foundations’ they need not have 
collapsed; France’s fortunes had not yet been compromised irretrievably, and 
... ‘his glory was immense’. 3 

It will be seen that this view bears some resemblance to that of Bignon; the 
difference lies in the moment at which the fatal change is supposed to have taken 

1. 1, 317b. 2. 11, 87b. 3. 11, 323b. 



place. Tliiers puts it earlier than liis predecessor, hut not very emphatically. In 
the passage just quoted, he allows his imagination to play with the idea, which 
Bignon had quite seriously entertained, that the position won for France at 
Tilsit could have been maintained. For the moment I leave on one side the 
question whether it is better not to speak of a change of course but to follow 
Lefebvre and seek (if I may so interpret an idea which he never expressed in so 
many words) ineluctable fatality in the fact that this wonderful brain always 
lacked the balance and self-control which an enduring peace would have de- 
manded. And when Thiers stressed unfavourable circumstances, it must be 
remembered that these, by the peace treaties of Leoben and of Campo Formio, 
were largely of Napoleon’s own making. I am ready to believe, with Thiers, 
in the honesty of Bonaparte’s intentions regarding the peace treaties of Luneville 
and Amiens (though we shall later see how much that of Amiens can be called 
in question). But even so I still find it difficult to accept the theory that he was 
not to be blamed for the breaking of the peace with Britain a year later, in 1803. 
Was not that year the turning-point? 


Thiers gives the impression - and here at least he is at one with his two predeces- 
sors - that in the renewed conflict with England the First Consul indisputably 
had the right on his side. True, he censures the notorious outburst of rage, not 
the first of a long series which became part of Napoleonic tactics, in which the 
British ambassador was shouted at in front of the whole diplomatic corps, and 
the most terrible misfortunes predicted for Britain if she did not leave continental 
affairs to Napoleon’s pleasure. This outburst was but the outward sign, according 
to Thiers, 1 of a revolution which had taken place in The impressionable and 
passionate soul’ of Napoleon. "A fertile and hard-working peace’, that was the 
dream which he had cherished. ‘Now all of a sudden he was mastered by a 
patriotic and at the same time personal wrath, and from now on to conquer, 
humiliate, trample down, and annihilate England became the passion of his life.’ 
Nevertheless he was able to control himself, and once more bore himself with 
an unshakeable steadiness, to make it perfectly clear that it was Britain, not he, 
which desired war. 2 This is the point in Thiers’s treatment of the episode: he 
himself is completely convinced of this. He seems not to have the faintest notion 
that in using his position of power on the continent (which had been ceded to 
him at Amiens only with the greatest reluctance) to interfere in Switzerland, to 

1. 1, 460b. 2. 1, 462b. 



annex Piedmont, to march into other parts of Italy, to keep troops in Holland, 
the First Consul was bound to excite aversion and resistance in Britain against 
an arrangement which many there already regarded as humiliating and dan- 
gerous. And even before the scene with Lord Whitworth, there had been threats 
as well as actions designed to intimidate the British, and of a kind to arouse 
doubt as to whether the First Consul was so sincere in his dream of a fruitful 
peace as Thiers appears to think. There was Sebastiani’s notorious report, pub- 
lished in the Moniteur, concerning the reconquest of Egypt ; there was the dispatch 
dictated by Bonaparte, in which Talleyrand, who was just the man to realize 
the complete unreasonableness of such language, was made to warn the British 
that if they drove France to war, they would force her to conquer the whole 
continent. “The First Consul is only thirty-three years old, he has so far destroyed 
second-class states only. Who knows in how brief a time, if he is forced to it, he 
will change the face of Europe and raise the Western Empire up again.’ Thiers 
reports all this, but it does not shake him in his conviction that it was Britain 
who, by holding on to Malta, broke the peace treaty just signed and so brought 
about the war. He complains that Whitworth, who just before the famous 
scene (but after all these challenges and displays of power) had a quiet conversa- 
tion with Napoleon, did not understand ‘the greatness and sincerity’ of the 
First Consul’s words; and when Bonaparte insists on the integral execution of 
the peace treaty, he is only, according to Thiers, speaking ‘the language of 
justice and of insulted pride’. 1 


Thiers’s attitude is strikingly shown in his account of the murder of the Due 
d’Enghien. It is impossible in this connexion to use any other word than murder, 
and Thiers himself does not defend the action. 

The war with Britain, resumed, as we saw, in 1803, was dragging on. A camp 
had already been in existence in Boulogne for a year, and feverish plans and 
preparations were being made. But was the invasion ever likely to come off? 
Relations were strained with Austria and Russia, but for the moment there was 
peace on the continent. Meanwhile the British were working up unrest in 
France, and the Comte d’ Artois, 2 who was living in Britain, recklessly lent a 
hand. Royalists came secretly from overseas and hatched plots with their sym- 
pathizers. Attempts to assassinate the First Consul were all the rage. In England 
he was regarded as an adventurer who had made himself master of France. 

1. i, 458a. 

2. The youngest brother of Louis XVI, later Charles X. 



People were expecting at any moment to see his ephemeral administration 
collapse. Bonaparte was infuriated by these conspiracies, about which a good 
deal had come to light. He could not get at Britain, nor at the Comte d’ Artois. 
But in Baden, close to the French frontier, was another Bourbon, the young 
Due d’Enghien, son of Conde. Was he waiting for a sign to play his part in the 
plot? Was he in touch with the conspirators? Suspicions of this kind - prisoners 
had let out that a prince of the blood was expected - in no way justified the kid- 
napping on neutral territory which Bonaparte ordered. Nothing could be proved 
to the court martial, save that Enghien was in British pay, nor was there any 
other charge. 

On this ground he was shot, the same night. It was a warning, and at the same 
time a challenge, to the Bourbons and the royalists. It was a gesture for which a 
human life, and justice itself, were ruthlessly sacrificed. 

Thiers does not deny this. But he puts the blame on the royalists who had 
driven the good First Consul to such a measure by their conspiracies and their 
collusion with Britain. ‘His heart, generous and kind, whatever may be said 
by those who never knew him*; 1 he does not scruple to write thus in connexion 
with this very crime. Nor is this an unconsidered statement: there is an entire 
theory behind it. For Thiers, Bonaparte is the exponent of the principle of the 
Revolution in its benevolent aspects. To the man of x 83 0, this is especially obvious 
when a question of opposition to the Bourbons is involved. ‘Just as twelve 
years ago’, he writes, ‘the emigres and their treason had incited the Revolution, 
guiltless till then, to the shedding of blood* - for had not the Terror been the 
answer to the invasion and royahst risings in connivance with the foreigner? 
- ‘so now these same people* - still the hated royalists - ‘caused the man who 
till that day had been wisdom incarnate at the head of the State to turn from 
good to evil, from moderation to violence.* ‘The ingratitude of the parties* - 
to the man who had brought about reconciliation - ‘the insolent enmity of 
Europe* - and the deplorable incident is explained. 2 


Thiers then regarded Bonaparte’s conduct up to this moment as that of ‘wis- 
dom incarnate*. I have already said that he found much to question in the later 
years. He knew that Napoleon was subject to outbursts of passion, and he knew 
the dangers to peace this involved. 3 I have told, too, how dubious he was con- 
cerning the peace of Tilsit. He knows that Napoleon was so flushed with his 
victories that he lost all sense of proportion, and that France had to pay the bill. 
He realizes how irresponsible - looking at it merely from the pragmatic point 

1. 1, 532b. 2. 1, 535. 3. i, 631a. 



of view - was the imprisonment of Pope Pius VII in 1809, and he quite rightly 
links it with the murder of Enghien and the forced abdication of the Spanish 
royal family (the ‘ambush’ of Bayonne in 1 808, of which more later), as episodes 
in that ‘ embittered struggle with the old European order’ 1 into which Napoleon 
had thrown himself. He knows too that Napoleon could not bear to be contra- 
dicted either in his own circle or in France, that his system became more and 
more despotic, and that this state of affairs gradually undermined the self- 
reliance of his colleagues and servants and paralysed all their initiative, to the 
great detriment of both France and himself. He knows how weary the French 
people were of those endless wars, how fraught with peril the eastern digression 
of 1807 appeared even to contemporaries, and that Napoleon, though with Ins 
unerring perspicacity he could perfectly discern such feelings, would not have 
these storm signals actually discussed. 3 

Nevertheless Thiers’s Napoleon, besides being incomparably great, both as 
ruler and as commander, remains a good and indeed an attractive man. His 
shortcomings are chronicled with a certain wistfulness. This appears even after 
one of the severest passages, in a reflection on the campaigns of 1810 and 1811 
in Spain. Thiers states that Napoleon was a tired man, that he had been wilfully 
blmd to unpleasant facts, and had given orders, uncertain and doubtful orders 
sometimes, based on numbers to which he knew that the worn-out armies could 
no longer attain, and that finally he put the blame on his generals and treated 
Massena in particular with cruel injustice. Even then, when he comments that 
jealousy, vengefulness, anger, bewilderment, and error had taken possession 
of Napoleon’s soul, it is only to ask how, if ‘his own great spirit’ was capable 
of these weaknesses, he could close his eyes to the inevitability that his generals 
would also succumb to them. 3 

And what of his greatness and wisdom as a ruler? In Thiers’s opinion, Napo- 
leon’s correspondence with the brothers he had created kings ‘deserves to be 
studied as a succession of profound lessons in the art of government’. 4 Certainly 
the reader of this correspondence feels himself in contact with an extraordinary 
mind. The decisiveness, the precisely expressed recommendations, the aversion 
to empty phrases, the ability to pick out relevant facts from the general con- 
fusion - it is a constant pleasure to observe these qualities. There are passages 
which fully deserve the praise Thiers bestows. One of these, from a letter addres- 
sed to Jerome, the youngest brother, much younger than Napoleon, and created 
by him King of Westphalia, I shall quote: 

Do not listen to those who will tell you that your people, used as they are to 
subjection, will receive your benefits gratefully. There is more enlightenment in 
the Kingdom of Westphalia than you will be told, and only in the confidence and 

1. hi, 210a. 2. 11, 593. 3. hi, 416b. 4. 11, 130a. 



love of the population will your throne stand firmly. What is above all desired in 
Germany is that you will grant to those who do not belong to the nobility, but 
possess talents, an equal claim to offices, and that all vestiges of serfdom and of 
barriers between the sovereign and the lowest class of the people shall be completely 
done away with. The benefits of the Code Napoleon , legal procedure in open court, 
the jury, these are the points by which your monarchy should be distinguished . . . 
your people must enjoy a liberty, an equality, a prosperity, unknown in the rest of 
Germany. 1 

Such a letter must have especially appealed to Thiers, with its picture of Nap- 
oleon as the conscious propagator of the principles of the Revolution. One might 
only express some doubt as to whether it was an example of the ruler’s wisdom 
to lay a task so far above his powers on the shoulders of so useless a youth as 
Jerome; but I shall not go into this matter at present. Even if one confines one- 
self to the correspondence, Thiers’s unqualified praise seems strange. 

Take for example the correspondence with Louis, separately published in 
1 875. 3 There is perhaps both truth and wisdom in the comment that Louis was 
too set on being regarded as good-natured, and that a prince who in the first 
year of his reign is regarded as 4 so good’ is likely to be laughed at in the second 
year. Louis’s extravagance and his empty display were also assessed at their 
true value by his brother. But how arid does his severity appear after a time, 
what a lack of understanding is revealed by the ceaselessly repeated admoni- 
tions, as if the entire art of government consisted of the giving of orders and the 
application of force. Ileave on one side the brutal tone used to the younger brother 
after the crisis of 1 8 10, the scorn, the rubbing in of his stupidity and his powerless- 
ness. Napoleon had enough of Louis’s kingship, and any means seemed to him 
justified to induce Louis to abdicate. Among the deserved rebukes are some 
which are grotesquely unjust; and when Louis’s retorts are to the point, no 
notice is taken. Or a reminder of promises made, an appeal to honour, is coun- 
tered by a savage sneer: 4 You might have spared me this fine display of your 
principles.’ But what can be said of the warning that if Louis ignored his ex- 
hortation to be frangais de cceur , his people - the Dutch, by the way - would chase 
him away with scorn and contumely. 4 One has to admit,’ says the French editor 
of 1 875,3 ‘that it would be difficult to show more hardheartedness and pride, 
combined with so little shrewdness in the appreciation of events.’ 

A succession of wise lessons ! Are we to suppose that to these belongs ‘that 
famous repression theory which Napoleon so frequently expounded, to Murat 
for Spain, to Joseph for the Kingdom of Naples, to Junot for Tuscany, to Davout 

1. See for example Rambaud, UAllemagne sous Napoleon Ier, p. 319. 

2. By Felix Ro cquain, Napoleon Ier et le rot Louis. 

3. p. cxx. 



for Northern Germany’ ?* The theory, that is to say, that severe punitive measures 
in occupied or annexed territories were humane, since they prevented a renewal 
of disturbances. But was even this remarkable humanity more than a pretext? 
Was it anything more than an unquenchable lust for power? In 1808 Napoleon 
wrote to Joseph, then still King of Naples : ' I wish the Naples mob would attempt 
a rising. As long as you have not made an example, you will not be their master. 
Every conquered country must have its rising/ 

Meanwhile Thiers does not conceal the faults of Napoleon, nor the great 
weariness and reluctance, long before the end, of French public opinion. He 
gives a really telling picture of the reaction to the Emperor’s retreat behind the 
Rhine frontier with his beaten army after his second military disaster, the German 
one of 1813, which succeeded that in Russia of i8i2. a 

In Paris he found the public profoundly cast down, almost despairing, and in 
particular greatly incensed by his actions. His police, however zealously and arbi- 
trarily they worked, could hardly prevent those widespread feelings from breaking 
forth . . . He was not forgiven for having neglected the happy chance of concluding 
peace offered by his victories of Luetzen and Bautzen. His explanation of the peace 
negotiations of Prague was simply not believed 3 [and indeed it was false]; people 
were convinced that the failure was due to him. His ambition was looked upon as 
excessive, cruel to mankind, and fatal to France . . . The fettered and paid scribblers 
who alone were allowed to write the news-sheets, and who were believed by 
nobody any more, had received instructions from the Duke of Rovigo [that is, 
Savary, the Minister of Police] as to how they were to represent the disasters of the 
campaign. The frost having done service as explanation of the misfortunes of 1812, 
the defection of the allies was to make intelligible those of 1813 ... ‘He wants to 
sacrifice all our children to his mad ambition’; that was the cry rising up from 
every family, in Paris as in the remotest provinces. The genius of Napoleon was 
not denied; worse, it was ignored. People only remembered his passion for war 
and conquest. The detestation once felt for the guillotine was now evoked by war 
. . . France, which after ten years of revolution had had its fill of freedom, now, 
after fifteen years of military government, had learned to loathe despotism and the 
shedding of French blood from one end of Europe to the other. . . . 

1814 AND 1815 

Yet, as Thiers pursues the story further, Napoleon’s downfall touches his heart 
more deeply. This of course is connected with the sorrow he felt at the conse- 
quences of France’s downfall. In other words, unlike Mme de Stael, he will not 

x. A. Rambaud, VAUemagne sous Napoleon Ier (1896), p. 193. 

2. v, 247b. 

3. Cf. below the discussion of the negotiations of Prague, p. 271 ffl 


separate Napoleon from his country. However much developments at that 
critical moment seemed to point to such an attitude, he is determined to make 
no such distinction. The profound difference between his view of Napoleon 
and that of Mme de Stael, indeed, between their whole social and political 
outlooks, makes this intelligible. 

When the allies have reached Paris, in 1814, Napoleon is at Fontainbleau with 
the remnants of his severely battered armies. He still wishes to risk an attack, 
and Tillers, who thinks he had a chance (it certainly needs a fervent admiration 
to share this belief), bitterly reproaches the marshals for refusing to follow him 
in his last despairing attempt, and for thus forcing the abdication upon him. I 
do not wish to take up the cudgels for those children of the fortunes of war. 
They had been made great by Napoleon, from him they had their fancy uniforms, 
their high-sounding titles, and their broad acres; yet now they had no thought 
but of saving as much as possible of their gains from the wreck, and of seeking 
a quiet life at last. It is not surprising that in the public mind of the day Marmont 
(‘Duke of Ragusa’), who played an important role in that praetorian resistance, 
and who became a great man under the subsequent regime of the Bourbons, 
was never regarded in any other light than that of the traitor of 1814. 1 But 
Thiers has more general considerations in mind. He imagines that the Rhine 
frontier could have been held. What binds the French patriot to Napoleon at 
this moment is the possession of the German Rhineland and of Flanders, the 
countries which the Revolution had conquered in its first onrush and which were 
now being lost in the last stages of the Napoleonic adventure. Had Napoleon 
by Ills mistakes gambled all this away? At any rate, only Napoleon can win it 
back. This idea must put an end to all criticism of the internal administration; 
to make a separation between the dictator and Ills country is betrayal. 

The same problem appears again in 1815, after the return from Elba. As soon 
as Napoleon is once more in the Tuileries, Thiers considers it the duty of every 
Frenchman to support him in his resistance to the advancing allies. Those 
departements which struggle to make their young men available for yet another 
trial by battle are praised for their ‘laudable attempts*. 2 The men of the Vendee 
who (as a generation before against the Revolution, and again under a de la 
Rochejaquelein), rise in revolt, are reproved. By doing so ‘they withdrew fifteen 
to twenty thousand Frenchmen from the formidable rendezvous at Waterloo, 
and thus made their contribution to the most tragic disaster of our history. 3 This 

1. In July 1830 Charles X made him Commandant of Paris, thereby irritating the 
people still more. ‘Raguser’ was used in the sense of ‘trahir’: Vaulabelle, Histoire des 
deux Restaurations, vm, 209. 

2. vi, 295b. 

3. vi, 319a. ‘Le desastre le plus traoique de noire histoire .’ Unfortunate France has since 
had to face worse disasters. 



the first chroniclers 

attitude towards Waterloo, this unconditional rallying behind Napoleon at the 
critical moment, we shall observe again in the work of many later French 
historians. Thiers is all the more prone to it in that he, as we know, is able to 
believe in the real goodness of Napoleon, in the purity of his motives, and so also 
acceptsthesincerity of his conversion to liberal and peace-loving intentions. 

For in that amazing final curtain of the great drama, the Fiundred Days, the 
most astonishing sight is that of Napoleon in the role of the despot and conqueror 
chastened and made wise by misfortune. Freedom of the Press, parliamentary 
government, peace - all these he was now prepared to guarantee to the French 
people. Yet Thiers is not so naive (although it is impossible not to use that word 
occasionally in connexion with this typical worldling, who prided himself on 
his shrewdness) as to be blind to the fact that there were good grounds for the 
distrust of the French people. He understands the suspicions of the French liberals 
and democrats, as well as those of the foreign princes and peoples. ‘God’, he 
says, referring to the first, ‘sees our repentance and is satisfied. Men have neither 
this insight nor this pity. They are aware only of the transgressions that are 
committed, and their rough law demands actual, complete, and visible chastise- 
ment.’ 1 Concerning the second category, he can up to a certain point sympa- 
thize with their fury against the destroyer of their peace, and admits that 
Napoleon had brought it on himself by * an unendurable abuse of victory over a 
period of fifteen years’. 

At the same time, Thiers is convinced of Napoleon’s repentance. He gives a 
moving description of the Emperor’s visit to la Malmaison, just before he set 
out for the final fatal battle and in the midst of urgent and pressing preoccupa- 
tions. It was in the country house bound up with the memory of Josephine, 
who had lived there after her repudiation until her death in 1814, and where 
he, when still First Consul, had passed his happiest days with her. How different 
things were then, how the world had honoured him in those days ! 

But at that time he had not yet wearied, enslaved, and devastated it; the nations 
regarded him not as a tyrant but as a saviour. Brooding over those days, he did not 
deceive himself, nor fail to mete out to himself the inexorable justice of genius, 
but still he told himself that, since he had renounced the error of his ways, the 
world might give him some confidence in return, and enable him to put into 
practice the new wisdom brought from Elba.* 

Though Thiers repeats that men cannot be expected to grant a second chance, 
and that only God can judge true repentance, it is clear that for him despotism 
and lust for conquest had been only subsidiary faults, and that now that disasters 
had purified him, the true Napoleon, the benefactor of the French people and of 

1. vi, 291b. 2. vi, 334b. 



mankind, was once more appearing - only to be destroyed at Waterloo. There 
is here, then, deep human tragedy, quite apart from the blow sustained by 
France, for whom the new peace terms were harder than those of 1814. It is 
also clear that for a man who held such views, the St Helena pronouncements 
of Napoleon must be testmiony worthy of trust, indeed of reverence. 


If one tries to get a view of the work as a whole, it must be admitted that there is 
some truth in the criticism of Sainte-Beuve that the picture of Napoleon as 
politician is somewhat vague, nebulous, and lacking in precision. 1 The great 
narrator, with his intelligence and his enthusiasm for the innumerable problems 
which he encounters, has given an admirable exposition which can still be used 
as a basis for further work. But synthesis is not his strong point. His own person- 
ality was too opportunist, too pliable, too adaptable. 

Unprincipled, too impressed by success, said his enemies. Indeed, scarcely 
was the great work completed but there was a reaction against the Napoleonic 
legend, which had triumphed in Thiers’s book for all his care for accuracy and 
his occasional severe criticism. The reaction was often directed against Thiers 
in person, in itself a recognition of his importance for Napoleonic studies. The 
fact will give me further opportunity to add to my all too scanty review of his 
inexhaustibly rich work. 

I. In his review of Lefebvre’s book Histotre des Cabinets de VEmpire , etc., printed at the 
beginning of the later edition: 1 xxxrn. 

Part 3 

Reaction Against the Legend 

The Circumstances 

The reaction against the Napoleonic legend was closely connected with the 
opposition to the Second Empire, which grew in strength in the sixties. 

One of the pillars upon which Napoleon III and his government rested was 
veneration for the first Napoleon. How much he himself realized this, appears 
from his sponsorship, in 1857, of a majestic edition of Napoleon I’s letters, and 
still more from the decree of 1864 m which he disbanded the committee engaged 
upon the work, which had already produced fifteen volumes, and set another 
in its place under the chairmanship of Prince Napoleon (his cousin, son of 
Jerome Bonaparte). The first committee had on the whole set about its task in a 
scholarly fashion. The second committee began by announcing to the Emperor 
that it would be guided by the ‘very simple idea* ‘that we were charged with 
the task of publishing what the Emperor would have made available to the 
public if he had wished, se survivant a lui-meme et devangant la justice des ages, 
to display himself and his system to posterity*. Thus a number of letters which 
threw an unfavourable light on Napoleon were quietly omitted from the seven- 
teen volumes issued by this new committee. It is amusmg to note that since this 
official patronage did not go unobserved, its effects were the reverse of what 
was intended, andit was followed by a flood ofwritingprejudicial to the hallowed 
memory. 1 

1. Thiers had access to the originals in the Louvre, but when the committee started 
work this was apparently no longer permitted. There were, however, quite a number of 
letters in private collections, and while the committee, working from the minutes, made 
their selection, independent historians sometimes published letters which had been ex- 
cluded by them. An example is d’HaussonviUe, with whose work I shall be dealing in a 
later chapter. After 1870 the great archive collection was of course reopened As early as 
1875, for example, Rocquain, whose work has been already mentioned, made additions 
to the Correspondence. In 1897 Leon Lecestre produced two volumes from material which 
the official editors had set aside (including material already made public variously by other 
hands). The work was called Lettres inedites de Napoleon ler. There were later volumes of 
additions to this by other editors. In his introduction Lecestre wrote: ‘II convient de fairs 
remarquer que ces lettres ainsi reunies laissent une impression bien difference de celle 
qu’elles auraient produite, si elles avaient 6 t 6 inserees k leur place respective dans la 
Correspondance. Encadrees dans les pieces si nombreuses ou eclate le genie de l’Empereur, 
elles auraient peut-etre passe presque inaper^ues, ou du moins 1’ admiration inspiree par 
les incomparables qualites du souveram et du general aurat fait oublier dans une 
certaine rnesure les coups de butoir du despote.’ According to this view, which has much 



At first many, like Thiers, who had scant liking for Napoleon IH and Ms 
semi-dictatorial regime, shared the veneration for Napoleon I, and a popular 
method of attack was to point out the contrasts. Victor Hugo contemptuously 
called the new Emperor Napoleon le petit. Yet the coup d’etat of 1851 had revealed 
in a flash the danger inherent in the combination of democracy and Caesarism, 
or to put it another way, the unreality of a democracy based on ‘strong govern- 
ment’ and militarism. The new regime, unable to conceal even though it might 
mitigate its authoritarian character, saw itself forced to interpret the Napoleonic 
legend less liberally than the first Emperor himself had done during the Hundred 
Days and on St Helena. It became customary to present the Revolution, of 
which Napoleon must still pass for the heir and exponent, as undertaken on 
behalf of civil not political liberty, and the French as being content with equality, 
and with social reforms safeguarded by a government which was not respon- 
sible to them. The fighters for trampled liberty could not avoid seeing that this 
had indeed been the position of the first Napoleon, and the never wholly for- 
gotten tradition of rejection estabhshed by Mine de Stael was resurrected. 

truth, Napoleon Ill’s policy of falsifying the sources achieved an effect the reveise of his 
intention. Sainte-Beuve was among the members of the new committee which started 
work in 1864 with that remarkable declaration of principle: see the mtroduction 
volume xvi of the Correspondance. See on p. 148 below, the defence put forward by 
Prince Napoleon many years later. 

Jules Barni 

Even before the appearance of the historically more important works which 

1 intend to discuss, the problem was clearly set forth by Jules Barni in a critical 
examination of Thiers’s history. The writer lived as a political exile in Switzer- 
land. His book, NapoUon et son historien M. Thiers , a series of lectures given at 
Geneva in 1863, was banned in France. A certain number of copies were of 
course distributed clandestinely, but in 1 869 the writer had it reprinted in France. 
He and his publisher believed that the court would leave that edition alone, and 
indeed as far as I know there was never any prosecution. Jules Barni had trans- 
lated Kant, and written books such as La morale dans la democratic and Les martyres 
de la libre pensee. 

In his examination of Thiers he begins by asking himself what the writer’s 
standpoint is. He finds that Thiers’s only measure is success, and that he has no 
moral scale of values. Lamartine had already remarked: ‘This author is the 
accomplice of Fortune: he only recognizes evil-doing when it is punished by 
adversity.’ The conflict between reverence for the historical fact as such (Barni 
does not put it in these words), and the consciousness of an obligation to test 
the fact by eternal moral values, always has existed and always will exist both 
in historical study and in its object, the strife between men called politics. In 
those years of resistance to arbitrary power, bom of violence in the coup d'etat of 

2 December, Frenchmen became very much aware of that conflict. 

Bami’s little book is no serious contribution to Napoleonic his toriography, 
for it is too purely polemical. But from the mass of Thiers’s utterances, dis- 
cretions, and palliations Bami skilfully extracts the spirit of the great work; 
and most of the theses inspiring the four later works, which I shall be discussing 
shortly, are to be found in his book. 

Bami has no patience with the idea of Napoleon as propagator of the Revolu- 
tion. Rather does he regard him as the man who obstructed the Revolution, and 
where he couldnot destroy it, debased it. I will glance at one or two of the points 
he makes. Thiers admires the centralization introduced by the First Consul, 
in which the prefects were the principal instruments of central authority. Bami 
recalls de Tocqueville’s demonstration that this was completely contrary to 
the wishes of the Assemblie constituante , that it was a return to the ancien regime 
and the intendants . ‘ The elective principle introduced by the Revolution was 



suppressed.’ 1 He is irritated by the way in which the suppression of represen- 
tative bodies is glossed over, and the nonchalance with winch those who attemp- 
ted to organize a defence are brushed aside with the comment that ‘they were 
blind to the general development of opinion and to the needs of the time*. 3 
Against Thiers’s enthusiasm for the setting up of the Legion of Honour, ‘ce 
beau systeme de recompense ’, he quotes Bonaparte’s cynical comment: ‘It is with 
rattles that men are led.’ 3 The institution was established for no other purpose 
than to undermine equality, still regarded as the great benefit brought by the 
Revolution, for the undisturbed enjoyment of which Napoleon claimed grati- 
tude. The establishment of a new nobility under the Empire was of course an 
even more flagrant encroachment on equality. In his Histoire de la Revolution 
fian$aise the youthful Thiers had written that Napoleon carried out the Revo- 
lution by creating an aristocracy from among the people.* It is indeed not very 
plausible, but his view of the imperial coronation is closely connected with itJ 
‘Among the triumphs of our Revolution this was not the least, to see the 
soldier sprung from her own bosom consecrated by the Pope, who had left 
the capital of Christendom for that very purpose.’ Bami comments: 

As for me, I admit that I find it impossible to discover a triumph of the Revolution 
in the overthrow of her most sacred principles, in the ruin of her dearest achieve- 
ments, m the restoration of such institutions and forms as were most opposed to her 

Tliiers continued: ‘If only control of ambition had shared that throne with 
genius, that France might have been guaranteed a sufficient measure of freedom, 
and that a reasonable limit might have been put to heroic enterprises . . 

Here I interrupt the historian [Barni says] and I exclaim: ‘What ! You praise that 
man when he tramples underfoot the fundamental laws and appropriates the 
sovereignty; you praise the Consular and Imperial Constitutions, which dehver all 
power up to him ; and you want that usurper to control his ambition, you want that 
despot, who rules the country according to his whim, to guarantee a sufficiency of 
freedom, you want that omnipotent commander to limit his enterprises, which you 
call heroic? What a strange piece of reasoning, and, in a historian, what a surprising 
forgetfulness of all the lessons of history ! . . .’ 

Arbitrary administration of the law, the Press controlled, the Concordat, 
intended not to save religion but to make it an instrument of government - a 
censure, be it noted, very different from that of Mignet (see p. 37), though Mme 
de Stael had already written in these terms, and we shall meet it later in extenso 

1. pp. 57 and 59. 2. p. 64. 3. p. 69. 4. p. 145. 

5. Thiers, i, 602b; in Barni, p. 158. 



- and then the wars ! Did no blame at all attach to Bonaparte for the breaking 
of the Treaty of Amiens? Bami merely poses the question, but he does protest 
agamst the systematic Anglophobia which Thiers displayed, in common with 
many other French writers. Next there were the acts of violence, the executions, 
the terrorism. Bami notes that Thiers does not bother to speak of the Tyrolean 
national leader, Andreas Hofer, executed in Mantua m February 1810 Napoleon 
had written to Eugene, his stepson and Viceroy of Italy, in whose hands the 
prisoner was: 

My son, I had commanded you to send Hofer to Pans, but since you have got him 
in Mantua, give instant orders that a military commission be set up to try him and 
execute him on the spot. See that this takes place within twenty-four hours. 

Not a word on this matter, says Bami, in spite of the deep impression made on 
German-speaking countries by the death of Hofer. But what we do get is a 
detailed account of the ‘festivities, preparations, and details of etiquette’ to 
which Napoleon * devoted himself with so much pleasure * at the same moment, 
in anticipation of the arrival of the Austrian Archduchess, out of loyalty to 
whose house Hofer had sacrificed his life and who was now to be the wife of 
the conqueror. 

Finally Bami contests, point by point, the ‘portrait* of Napoleon with which 
Thiers had concluded his twentieth volume. I shall only take one of these. Napo- 
leon, according to Thiers, ‘ itait par son genie fait pour la France, comme la France 
itaitfaite pour lui\ Barm’s criticism is here in line with that of Mme de Stael 
and Chateaubriand. Napoleon, he says, was no Frenchman. He supports this 
view with quotations from Fichte (from his Reden an die deutsche Nation, 1813), 
and from Quinet, one of whose books I shall be discussmg next, and who had 
already put forward his theory of the Italian ongm of Napoleon’s Imperial 
dream. Bami concludes: 

That contempt of humanity, that misprision of the opinion of others, that Caesarean 
pride, that insensitive heart, and that profound moral indifference, these character- 
istics which distinguished Napoleon were not those of a Frenchman. 

We shall see how all these ideas recur in the works of the writers whom I am now 
going to discuss, and which it might be thought must bring to an end the venera- 
tion of the French for their Emperor. 

2 Edgar Quinet 


I am going to begin with Edgar Quinet’s book La Revolution , published in 
1865. It is not so much a history as an interpretation of the Revolution. One 
should not go to it for a thorough examination of the facts. But in spite of the 
lack of detail, his portrait of the man of the 18th Brmnaire has historical sig- 
nificance. (Quinet, it should be noted, closes the period of the Revolution with 
the coronation of the Emperor, that is, half-way through Napoleon’s career.) 

Quinet, a friend of Michelet, had been like him a professor at the College de 
France. In 1844 and 1845 the two had caused a great sensation by their lectures 
on the Jesuits, which were tantamount to a declaration of war on Catholicism. 
Indeed Quinet, though in no way an atheist or a man without religious feeling, 
regarded Catholicism as the great impediment to the development of the French 
social heritage. From a strictly scholarly point of view, his many writings on 
religious history, on German and Italian culture (he was acquainted before 
Bami with the German philosophers and poets, a most unusual accomplishment 
among Ms generation of Frenchmen), on the struggle for freedom in Ms own 
day and in antiquity, have little value. Quinet was a prophet, one of wide and 
real culture, and he preached Ms own undogmatic religion, Ms own anti-dicta- 
torial liberalism. In 1851 he was obhged to leave France, and thenceforth lived 
in Switzerland. He was over sixty in 1865. 


Quinet’s Revolution was received with some surprise. So fierce an attack on the 
Comite de salut public had not been expected from a combative anti-clerical, who 
would not have scrupled to use the university monopoly to propagate a deism 
better calculated, in Ms opinion, to develop the social heritage of France than 
Catholicism. Perhaps Ms view concerning State education accorded ill with his 
liberalism, which was nevertheless sincerely held. 

In Ms view, the Revolution in its earliest phase was most certainly the dynamic 
expression of a generous impulse towards freedom, and of a desire for a nobler, 
a more humane, and a more enlightened society. If in later years it engulfed the 
republic wMch might have realized these ideals, if it was satisfied with equality, 



the code civil , and material welfare, if it took refuge under the sceptre of an 
ambitious soldier, by so much did the Revolution fall short of its own high ideals. 
But backsliding did not begin with the 18th Brumairc. Long before that time 
the French people had shown themselves incapable of fulfilling then: Revolution. 
Hie massacres of September 1792 - ‘les evenements de septembre ’, as they were 
called, a training in the hypocritical glossing over of horrors - were preparatory 
to the Terror by which the noblest minds of the Revolution were annihilated. 

Quinet laments in particular the downfall of the Girondins, whom he regards 
as the true friends of freedom, for they wished to break down that centralization 
which was the product and the instrument of the old despotism. The Jacobins 
of the Comite de salut public desired nothing more than to make themselves 
masters of that instrument of the late domination. Their restoration of arbitrary 
power did even more moral harm than their savage methods with the leading 
figures of the Revolution. It left such demoralization that the Directorate was 
powerless to act, however good its intentions and however strong its desire to 
build firm foundations for the Republic. Indeed the Directors themselves were 
only too easily tempted to resort to force, and when in Fructidor 1797 three of 
them, with the help of the army, pushed aside the other two and attacked the 
legislative assemblies as well, the total rout of freedom was only a question of 

The man who had directed this coup, from Italy, was General Bonaparte. 
Two years later, in Brumaire, after his Egyptian adventure, he gave the death 

As long as there had been a civilian government, and a constitution, and a republic, 
there were at least the roots from which liberty might still spring, to blossom once 
more; now there came, with the sword, a regime on principle opposed to liberty. 

But after all that men had been through, after the atrocities, the shocks and 
disappointments, after the betrayals of principle, exhaustion and apathy were 
universal, and the parliamentarians’ appeal to the people was powerless against 
brute force and met with no response. Indeed men were content with civil 
rights and material acquisitions. But what blindness, and to what disasters, 
degeneracy, moral and spiritual death, did it lead ! 

"What is the explanation of this failure of the French people? It was not the 
only occasion. Whenever a liberal government was tried, in 1791 when the 
Constituante organized the constitutional monarchy, in 17 95~99 when the Direc- 
tory tried to clear the way for the republic, in 1848-51 under the Second Repub- 
lic, the public failed to support it. 1 A people cannot free itself from its historical 
tradition in the space of a few years. The French had every reason to hate their 

1. La Revolution , I, 137 ffi 



history, winch had nothing to offer them, no parliament like that of the British, 
no free cantons like those of the Swiss, nothing, mdeed, save absolutism. Li 
1789 they revolted agamst it, and in a moment of joyous enthusiasm imagined 
themselves free. But the old ways, ‘ les mceurs serviles * , soon reasserted themselves, 
all the more easily since the French Revolution (unlike the English and the 
Dutch) was not accompanied by a religious reformation. In Quinet’s view, 
freedom cannot coexist with Catholicism. It is one of his grudges against Rous- 
seau, whose spirit governed the Revolution, that he shrank from this reforma- 
tion, and still more that he made men’s minds impervious to it by the doctrine 1 
of liis * vicaire Savoyard ’ - *1 regard all the various religions as so many salutary 
institutions. I look upon them all as good, where God is served in fitting manner.’ 
And so men adapted themselves to the old slavery once more. 

What a melancholy spectacle they presented, these heroes of 1792, when 
after Brumaire they had to serve under a master. When friends reminded them 
of ideals formerly shared, there was only an embarrassed mumble, unless they 
snapped angrily back: ‘Let us forget all that.’ They decked themselves in the 
titles and the Every of the Emperor. And so this Revolution, begun as resistance 
to absolutism, to a stifling administrative centralization, and in Quinet’s view 2 
to the outworn Church of Rome, petered out in a government under which 
men could no doubt enjoy the lands they had acquired from the Church or from 
emigres, and which introduced the codes, but which was as authoritarian as the 
monarchy had ever been, even more highly centralized, and with the link 
between Church and State restored by the Concordat. 

The French who since 1804 imagined that they had salvaged the Revolution 
because they possessed their five codes, argued like the Byzantines, who also 
thought that they had preserved Athens and Rome and the heroic soul of ancient 
civilization, because Justinian had given them the Digests and the Pandects. 

The First Consul’s description of his regime, which turned everything into its 
opposite, as ‘definitely consolidating the effects of the Revolution’, was nothing 
more than an audacious sophism. ‘The most surprising part is that this sophism 
and the ambition of a great commander became the guide for the historian’s 
judgement (a thrust at Thiers), and the bait by which a portion of posterity 
allows itself to be snared.’ 3 

This civil freedom itself, so cunningly used as a pretext for the destruction 
of political life , 4 was but a fragile possession, in the absence of political guarantees. 
Everything had been sacrificed to equality, the divinity which devoured all others; 
it came first in the tables of the law. And yet this equality was suspended, by the 
creation of a new nobility and of entailed estates, which brought the old privileges 
with them. The nobility of the old France is revived and resumes its proud position, 

1. 11, 481. 2. 11, 537 - 3 . n, 535 - 4 - 11, 596. 



as the democrats who cannot penetrate into its ranks are seen to be forging new 
titles for themselves . . . Equality perished twice, when the new men repudiated 
her, and when the old names were restored. 

There was a spiritual servitude so great that literature withered away. 

Neither Kant, Fichte, Schelling, nor Hegel could have put forward in France those 
darmg theses which gave a new content to the moral world, they would have been 
imprisoned at the first word. 1 

Mine de Stael was not allowed to live in France. 

You know what the Empire asked as the price of restoring to her her country, her 
fame, her honour, and even the two millions that were owing to her. Two lines of 
praise; and these she had refused. 2 

But to exile she owed the opportunity of gaining strength and fresh life from 
the new ideas springing up elsewhere. Because of this, and because she had not 
needed to subjugate her mind to the All-Powerful, as the others had been com- 
pelled to do, because of her solitary sojourn at Coppet and her wanderings 
through Europe, at a time when the world and the French liberals were gettmg 
used to the yoke and were losing their way, she was able to echo the voice of 
1789 in her Considerations. That almost forgotten sound aroused wonder and 
trouble of spirit. As if by a miracle, the tradition of free minds was restored. 


Was the Church at least free from persecution? We know that Quinet could 
no longer regard it as a force for freedom. As we shall see, people never tired 
of citing the famous Concordat of 1801 as the conclusive proof of the young 
First Consul’s statesmanlike wisdom. If Quinet condemned it, it was largely 
on the grounds that this measure was no true liberation for the Church, that it 
was in fact servitude. With a stroke of the pen, he writes, the First Consul had 
abolished the healthy modem principle of the separation of Church and State, 
established in 1795 (in place of the Constitution civile du clergi , which had proved 

Religion is henceforth no more than a matter for authority and police ; conscien ce 
is again in the clutches and under the seal of policy. Nobody shall pray to his God 
without the permission of the State, which authorizes only those ancient forms of 
creed which have been consecrated by time. Hence the impossibility of renewing 
anything in religious life. Death is made into a rule . . . Every non-salaried faith, 
every non-official god is suppressed; and that change actually takes effect as soon as 

1. ii, 560. 2. 11, 570. 



the order is given. Not a soul offers resistance. The officially admitted religions 
rejoice that life has been made impossible for others; and what strikes one dumb 
is that this spiritual regime, of winch police supervision is the most constant feature, 
could be called the regime of religious liberty, so completely and suddenly had 
every idea of real liberty been driven out. 

The clergy, enslaved by the sovereign, itself sovereign over conscience; a 
despotic church in the power of a despot. Such was the Concordat ! A mace In the 
hands of Hercules ! Yet it can be turned against him. 

In the speech of Portalis [the Minister of Cults] by which the Concordat of 1802 
was as it were prefaced, lies the origin of that conventional Catholicism, seen by no 
mortal eyes, fabulous, liberal, tolerant, without monastic orders, without monas- 
teries or convents, without ultramontanism, without theocracy, almost without 
Pope, a mere figment of the imagination of a great lawyer serving a great soldier. 
We talk of Utopias: the first Utopia is the Concordat. 

Here is its true significance: as regards policy the Revolution was seeking a 
refuge with Caesar, as regards religion with the Pope. 1 

I hardly need remark that all these views were so many attacks on the regime 
of Napoleon III. Quinet too was living in Switzerland, able to draw strength 
from the world of ideas outside France because he had not been willing to bow 
to the tyrant. In his day, too, a materialism reigned supreme and was to reconcile 
men to the loss of their freedom. Were not the intellectuals and the lawyers well 
satisfied, did not the air resound with praise for the blessings of imperial rule, 
uttered by those who were sunning themselves in its favour and enjoying its 
decorations, and who, many of them, had formerly served Louis Philippe or 
dreamed of liberty under the second Republic? 

Under Napoleon III, Church and State were linked together as closely as ever, 
Lamennais had fallen into disfavour at Rome shortly after 1830, and the Con- 
cordat of 1801 seemed sacrosanct to priests and officials alike. But that Quinet 
wrote under the influence of his own experiences does not lessen the importance 
to history of his ideas concerning Napoleon and Ills work. 


For Quinet, Napoleon is first and foremost the general, the military man. He 
does not question his merits as such, though he does hint that Bonaparte neglected 
no means to make them apparent. Massena, for instance, whose campaign in 
Switzerland during Bonaparte’s absence in Egypt had just as much title to be- 
come legendary, confined himself to the most meagre dispatches, which failed 
to fire public imagination. Bonaparte used his military reputation as political 

x. 11, 525 ft 



capital. Precisely at the moment when in Brumaire he had to throw everything 
into the balance, the successes of Massena in Switzerland and of Brune in Holland 
caused the danger to the Fatherland, which he was going to save, to appear much 
less threatening. Had not public opinion been so thoroughly prepared and ready 
to follow his lead, this might well have upset his calculations. However this may 
be, Napoleon is the soldier, the enemy of civil administration, of discussion and 
of freedom, the man of power, of brute force, the man, too, who was afraid 
neither of advertisement nor of deceit. 

One thing assured Napoleon’s success. He perceived from afar the goal towards 
which he strove. Among the men of his generation he was the only one who had 
known for a long time what he wanted. While the others were running aimlessly 
backwards and forwards, he went straight ahead. Absolute power was his compass. 1 

The case of Venice showed how unscrupulously he brushed aside everything 
which stood in his way. It was in 1796, at die very beginning of his career, after 
his sensational success in Italy. He was only a general in the service of the Republic, 
but already he was giving orders and negotiating in a high-handed way, estab- 
lishing States here and doing away with them there. Thus, after finding pretexts 
to gain control of the neutral republic of Venice, he delivered it up to Austria, 
high-handedness which aroused a certain uneasiness even in Paris. And what a 
piece of sophistry was his justification after the event. 

It was intended to strengthen the patriotism of the Venetians, to prepare the way 
for their future independence, and to ensure that at some later time they should 
receive a national government, whatever its composition. 

It was at St Helena that the fallen Emperor made this statement; there ‘where 
passion was stilled, and only posterity was his witness 7 , he invented, in cold 
blood, this worse than Machiavellian example of special pleading. By his writings 
we may know him. 

What writer, what philosopher [says Quinet mockingly] has the good fortune, in 
all religious, political, and sociological difficulties, and at the moment when the 
road seems closed to all others, to possess a star which shines exclusively for him, so 
that he can reply to every question : * My interest was that of the universe, my rule 
was liberty for the others, my victory was that of earth and of heaven, my defeat is 
that of Providence, the key to all mysteries is my sceptre. I was the alpha and the 
omega. After me nothing remains, neither kings nor peoples, the old world and 
the new are empty. 2 

Quinet can see nothing of the Frenchman, nothing of modern man, in 

1. n, 489. 2 . 11, 487. 



The ideal of Napoleon was the Empire of Constantine, and of Theodosius. He 
inherited this tradition, as did all the Italian Ghibellines, from his ancestors . . , 
Instead of assisting the liberation of the individual conscience, he always postulated 
a Pope, of whom he would be the Emperor and master. It is a conception which 
takes its origins from the idea of the Ghibellines and the medieval commentators. 
When he dreams of the future, it is always of the submissive world of a Justinian 
or a Theodosius, as imagined by the medieval imperialist thinkers. In the midst of 
such concepts, modem freedom seemed an anachronism; worse, to him it could 
appear only as the people’s whim, as a snare for his power. 

That is Napoleon - an Italian strayed into France, a victim of the superstitions 
of the Monarchia del mondo and testamentary executor of the wild imaginings 
of Dante - whom he had never read. None of the generals of French descent 
who had at first been sometimes regarded as his rivals, men like Moreau, Hoche, 
Joubert, Bemadotte, would have discovered the tradition of Roman universal 
monarchy in their ancestral archives. More grandiose than great, the vision of 
le grand empire , limitless, unbounded even by the sea, belongs to Napoleon and 
is Italian, says Quinet. And it is the true setting for his triumphant restoration of 
Catholicism, by which he hoped to give his authority the necessary foundation. 
What he had gamed by surprise on the i8tk Brumaire, he consecrated with the 


Quinet has one more interesting observation to make concerning Napoleon’s 
ecclesiastical policy. 1 In order to bring the earth once more under the yoke of 
Constantine or Theodosius, he had been compelled not only to restore the 
Papacy along with Catholicism, but thereafter to put himself in the place of the 
Papacy. Thus the Pope would merely have been a patriarch in the power of 
the Emperor. Like Constantine, Napoleon would have been able to preside over 
Councils of Nicaea. He would have had absolute authority over men’s souls 
as well as over their bodies. Such was his aim. But in trying to realize it, he made 
one mistake. It concerned the so-called liberties of the Gallican Church. Here 
his discernment failed. He did not realize that those liberties, which he intended 
to convert into servitude, had already disappeared with all the others ... He 
believed that with the four articles of Bossuet he could tie the Church fast to 
his triumphal chariot. But the Church would have nothing to do with them 
any more. ‘These articles, by which he imagined he could limi t the Papacy, 
were an illusion . . . That was the weakest side of the Empire.’ 

Napoleon, argues Quinet, could not remedy his mistake, because he did not 

i. ii, 534 & 



dare touch doctrine. As a true Latin, he was suspicious of the Greeks, he was 
lacking completely m the audacity of the pioneer or the reformer. The Church 
remained for him an unsurmountable obstacle to the attainment of his Byzantine 

How businesslike and sober, after these vast and timeless philosophizings, 
appears the account of Thiers. Or should I say that, compared with Thiers, 
Quinet seems fantastic and far-fetched? As regards the ecclesiastical policy, in. 
any case, I shall later show, when deakng with one of the writers whose books 
were soon, in a sense, to provide the factual basis for Quinet’s conceptions, 1 that 
it is necessary to assume neither Italian descent nor Byzantine model, since it was 
in line with French and general European tendencies. No doubt it has an exces- 
sive air, but then Napoleon carried everything to excess. For the rest I shall re- 
frain from comment, as later chapters will afford opportunity for explanation 
and discussion. 

I. cf. below, p. 102 ff., on d’Haussonvillb, Veglise romaine et le premier Empire. 
Much that may seem obscure here will be explained there. 

3 Pierre Lanfrey 


In 1867 there appeared the first volumes of a new Histoire de Napoleon, the aim 
of which was to do away with the legend once and for all. It was indeed the first 
scholarly attack made on it. While Bami contributed only scattered observations, 
and Quinet confined himself to generalities, Lanfrey, the author of the new 
work, undertook to give a straightforward and matter-of-fact account, and to 
support his critical attitude in every particular. Thiers’s work, as I observed, 
cannot be regarded as purely polemical. There can be no doubt, however, of 
the polemical character of Lanfrey’s book, in spite of the customary 
introduction in which the writer affirms that now that both the vilifiers and the 
apologists have shot their bolts, he will provide that calm, just, perspicacious 
assessment which the passage of time makes possible. 

As well-known journalist and publicist, he is trying to attack the government 
of his own day by undermining the foundations upon which it rests. He desires 
to show the falseness of the current view of the ‘great’ Napoleon, particularly 
as coined by Thiers. Of Constantine or Theodosius, of the ten-century-old 
tradition of the French monarchy, he has nothing to say. Yet, even so, his view 
is strongly reminiscent of that of Quinet. He recognizes no springs of action in 
Napoleon other than ambition and the lust for power. He sees not the man 
who consolidated the Revolution, but the man who suppressed liberty, the 
man of violence and trickery, from whom France had nothing save misery, 
who took away free speech, enslaved parliament and the Press, who expelled 
all men of independent mind, and who created a new aristocracy, supremely 
vulgar and flashy, from among his sword-rattlers and his bootlickers. There 
were, besides, those endless wars with all Europe, yielding sterile victories but a 
rich harvest of distrust and of hate and finally the disasters of 1812 to 1815. 

Lanfrey’s book is a piece of polemical writing because he is nearly always 
more concerned to prove these contentions, to spar, so to speak, with both 
Napoleon and his eulogists, than to give a true picture of the man. In so far as 
he attempts this, one has the feeling that his pen is guided by aversion and hostility. 
Wherever it is possible to choose between a favourable or a less favourable inter- 
pretation of Napoleon’s actions and intentions, one can be sure that Lanfrey will 



always choose the less favourable, and put it in the most unpleasant way. His 
reading of Napoleon s character, too, is composed from the least attractive 

If there is one characteristic and striking trait [he writes] in the innumerable 
conversations noted down by those who could approach him most intimately, it is 
the absence of all unforced utterances. He is always seen concerned either to gauge 
the intentions of the other person or to make an impression on his mind so as to 
lead him towards a certain conclusion; it would be trouble wasted to look for a 
moment of abandon, of enthusiasm, of sincere outpouring, be it about himself or 
others. Even when he allows himself to be carried away in these coquetries of cat- 
like grace, the charm of which contemporaries have so repeatedly descnbed, he 
does not lose sight of the effect that he is aiming at; even his rash words are calcu- 
lated. He is impenetrable to those near to him as well as to strangers. It would even 
be impossible to point out, in the whole of his life, a single one of those sayings of 
philosophic self-mockery which delight us in Caesar or in Frederick, because they 
show us the man rising above his role, commenting on himself with a judgement 
unclouded by his own success . . . Napoleon is always on the stage, always con- 
cerned about the impression he is making ... He is lacking in that final human 
greatness which consists in estimating one’s self at its true value, and as a result of his 
incurable self-conceit he remains on the level of small min ds . 1 

That is a striking passage, and no doubt it gives a recognizable picture of 
Napoleon. But does it give the whole Napoleon? We shall come across other 
representations of him, later on, based on the very opposite impression, and 
yet these too are not without a certain truth. But Lanfrey is blind to the greatness 
of the figure, if only as the creator of power, as conqueror, as ruler setting his 
stamp on France and on Europe. He is blind to the magnitude of his operations, 
even if regarded as nothing more than a breathtaking adventure. 

Since Lanfrey had the substantial volumes of the Correspondance at his disposal, 
he was able to make a much fuller use of the letters than Thiers, faced with the 
overwhelming mass of archive material, and he used them with much perspica- 
city. But the importance of his book, in the final analysis, is its point of view. 
It is one closely related to that of Mme de Stael and Quinet, the point of view of 
a man who sees in history primarily the moral problems. What I said above con- 
cerning greatness and power he would probably have rejected as rhetoric, or 
even denounced as dangerously misleading. He instinctively sets his face against 
hollow phrases about national honour and glory, and judges, unshaken by 
success or popular approbation, by his standards of freedom, love of truth, 
humanity, and reverence for spiritual values. 

The living Napoleon is not to be found in Lanfrey’s book. For absolute 

i. n, 336 ff. 



historical truth one would also search in vain. It has no place among these sharp 
judgements, this setting of black agamst white. The available material was still 
too one-sided, and Lanfrey is sometimes completely positive about relationships 
winch later research has shown to be far more complicated and intricate. To give 
only one example, there is the passage in which he presents Napoleon in 1812 
as preparing ‘with the utmost secrecy* the attack on Tsar Alexander, while the 
latter had only set 111 motion ‘a few defensive operations’, and had otherwise 
‘loyally accepted the consequences of Ins declaration of war on England*. Since 
the Russian archives have been opened and the story of Alexander’s ambitions, 
plans, dissimulation, and tricks told in great detail, 1 nothing remains of this 
theory of the innocent Tsar and the wicked Napoleon. 

Lanfrey must therefore be used with caution. His picture is not the one which 
history can mark as her own. Nevertheless, where he did possess the necessary 
data, he again and again provides irrefutable arguments winch are of the greatest 
importance for the formation of the picture. Any number of illusions perish 
before ‘the keen, searching north wind’ 2 which blows through this book. 


In Thiers’s opinion, as wc have seen, Napoleon’s authoritarian and military 
excesses were due to the fact that his better nature succumbed to the temptations 
of overwhelming success. Lanfrey - who thus continues in the direction pointed 
by Mme de Stael - shows us a very different Napoleon, consumed with ambition 
from the first, thirsting to succeed and to reach the top, and yet, with all this 
fiery passion, coldly calculating, completely unscrupulous in his methods, 
absolutely unprincipled himself but capable of making skilful use of the prin- 
ciples of others when he deigned to notice them at all. Long before the French, 
to their own undoing, made him First Consul, they could have realized, had 
they not been so blind and so frivolous, what sort of man he was. 

There was his little book, Le Souper de Beaucaire , published in 1793 when he 
was not yet twenty-four years old, in which, at the very opening of the terror 
and the domination of the Montagnards, he exhorted the Girondist population 
of Marseilles to submission. And why? On no other ground than that of the 
accomplished fact. Young Bonaparte does not care for justice or reason, but 
with frightening maturity recognizes power as the all-important factor.3 

He makes one further contribution to the cause of the revolutionary left, 

1. By Vandal, in Ms Napoleon et Alexandre let (1893-4); c£ Sorel, Lectures his - 
toriqnes, p. 192. 

3* f 3o°f£ lnS to G * P * Gooch > History and Historians of the Nineteenth Century , p. 257. 



this time with camion shot. It is in October 1795 ; he is just twenty-six, and (since 
Toulon) a man of some importance. What caused him to join forces with 
Barras against the royalist revolt? 

His personal sympathies were as little with the one as with the other [writes 
Lanfrey]. He was guided more by calculation than by principle. 1 * 

He gets his payment, the command of the army intended for Italy. In the 
famous proclamation delivered by the young general to his shabby troops, 
Lanfrey reads the signs of an ominous deviation from the spirit which had up 
to then inspired the republican armies. The call was no longer to their patriotism, 
but to their greed. 

Soldiers, you are ill-fed and almost naked ... I shall lead you into the most fertile 
plains of the world, where you will find big cities and rich lands. You will gather 
honour, glory, and riches. 

Such language heralded a war no longer of liberation but of conquest. 3 4 Thus 
Lanfrey, who says later on: 

Our national self-love has generally cast a veil over those motives of shameless 
rapacity which characterized our first occupation of Italy . . . People prefer to let 
themselves be beguiled by the fine-sounding phrases and rhetorical commonplaces 
intended to befog the crowd . . . But in that way the true meaning of events 
remains hidden, and there is surprise when so much alleged heroism and virtue 
result in so cynical a peace treaty as that of Campo Formio. People do not under- 
stand why our work in Italy was so qmckly undone, 3 nor why in the end our own 
Republic was doomed to suffer extinction at the hands of its own republican 

It will be seen that his point of departure is quite different from that of Thiers. 
The coup d’etat of Brumaire, a few years after, was not regarded by Lanfrey as 
salvation from confusion and impotence, but as the downfall of the Republic 
set up by the Revolution. He admits that the Republic had fallen into bad hands, 
with the Directorate. But the worst deed which the Directorate had on its 
conscience was to have given a free hand to this young general. There he was, 
sending money and art treasures to Paris, turning a blind eye to the corrupt 
practices of his subordinates, making political arrangements on his own author- 
ity, like the shocking one whereby the old Republic of Venice was first dissolved 
and then, at Campo Formio, handed over to Austria. And meanwhile he was 

1. 1, 72. 2. 1, 83. 

3. The Italian republics set up by Bonaparte collapsed as early as 1798, under the fresh 

Austrian attack. 

4. 1, 102. 



building such power for himself and the army that the French Republic itself 
would be safe no longer. 

With what calculated cunning the young man already played men off one 
against another! How unctuously he describes the state of political inferiority 
in which the Venetian Senate was wont to keep the nobles on the mainland. 1 
They are not likely to fare any better under Austria, those nobles - but that plan 
is not yet made public. The whole of that Venetian tragedy, the cunning design, 
the impudence with which weak opponents are put in the wrong, the demagogic 
exaggeration of occasional resistance to the French troops in order to have a 
grievance against the Venetian Senate 2 - Lanfrey uses it all to show that Bona- 
parte practised the unhallowed arts of dictatorial government as to the manner 
bom. Most revealing of all is the instruction given by Bonaparte on 26 May 
1797 to a general whom he sent to take possession of the Ionian Islands. For the 
time being the general was to show outward respect to the authority of Venice, 
but he must have the control all the same. 

If the inhabitants should prove to be inclined towards independence [that is to say, 
inclined to free themselves from Venetian rulel you are to encourage that inclina- 
tion, and in the proclamations which you will be issuing you must not omit to 
speak of Greece, Sparta, and Athens.* 

Lanfrey considers that the last phrase ‘is one of the most characteristic passages 
ever written by Bonaparte, shedding light into the darkest recesses of his soul’. 
We can certainly see from it that he had learnt the technique of propaganda 
appropriate to a conqueror even before he came to power in France, and that he 
did not scruple to use noble ideas for the purposes of deception. 

The Ionian Islands meant for Bonaparte a springboard to the East, for an 
attack on Turkey. The impetuousness with which he threw himself into this 
dream, forgetting Italy, as it were ‘betrayed*, says Lanfrey, ‘the unsoundness 
of that immoderate spirit, winch at a later stage imagined itself to be building 
for eternity when it did but collect the material for a gigantic ruin *.4 The Egyp- 
tian adventure falls into the same category. 

But even before relinquishing his command in Italy, Bonaparte used the 
independent power he had acquired there for an intervention in France. The 
Directorate had let him go his own way, had allowed him to train himself, as 
it were, for the role which he designed for himself in France. The Directorate, 
however, was even then divided: two of its members, Carnot and Barthelemy,’ 
especially the latter, were in contact with an opposition group in the Councils! 
Anti-Jacobin and liberal, this opposition wished to curb violence and abuse of 
power. It desired peace, a lasting peace, and thus was prepared to moderate the 

1. 1, 261. 2. 1, 244 £F. 3. 1, 123 and 269 £F. 4. i } 285. 


war aims. This * constitutional * opposition was inevitably urged on from behind 
by the royalists. But the member of the Five Hundred who put a question on the 
war with Venice, in which the country had become so unexpectedly involved, 
was certainly no royalist. It is characteristic that he spoke up for the right of the 
Five Hundred, and not without a reference to British parliamentary usage, to 
consider matters of war and peace. Bonaparte's fury at this timid attempt at 
criticism of his leadership is of the greatest significance. In his protests to the 
Directorate he complained that after the services he had rendered he was being 
persecuted and put under suspicion. He said that the speaker in the Five Hundred 
was ‘inspired by an emigre and in the pay of England’, and with his letter he sent 
a dagger. It was one taken from the conspirators on Venetian territory who had 
given the pretext for the occupation, but it must now serve as symbol for the 
daggers with which the opposition in the Five Hundred were, according to 
Bonaparte, threatening his life . . . Nor did he confine himself to protests. He 
used his eighty thousand men quite openly as a threat; he quotes the figure 
repeatedly as an argument which must stop all criticism. They were, he said, 
longing for the moment when they could save the constitution from royalist 
conspirators. In this Italian outburst his adversaries were referred to as ‘cowardly 
lawyers and miserable chatterboxes’. When one knows what was to happen 
two years later at Brumaire, one recognizes the same brand of demagogy. It 
is nevertheless somewhat unexpected to find Bonaparte and the most fiery 
Jacobins in the same boat on this occasion, to find him appealing to the fiercest 
revolutionary instincts of his soldiers, instincts which were then still easy to 
arouse. He allowed the army to demonstrate and draw up addresses to its heart’s 
content, and finally supplied the general, Augereau, needed by the majority of 
the Directorate and by Barras his patron in particular, in order to liquidate 
Barthelemy and Carnot and the opposition in the two Councils. And indeed it 
was by means of physical force, by the use of troops, that this was carried out on 
the 18th Fructidor (3 September 1797). The victims were not guillotined, as 
after previous crises; that time was past. Instead they were transported without 
trial to Guiana, where most of them died. 

This then was the famous act of violence which so undermined the moral 
strength of the regime, the Directorate, and the Councils alike, that once the 
pear was ripe and he himself in a position to undertake his own coup d’etat, 
Bonaparte had an easy task. Meanwhile Lanfiey, in giving his account of the 
story, has taken care that we shall note (though later historians, as we shall see, 
sometimes appear to forget it again) that Bonaparte, who was to profit from this 
moral decline in Brumaire, had had a leading part in the crime of Fructidor, 
simply because he would not suffer a word to be breathed against his arbitrary 
government in Italy. 



There follows the Egyptian expedition. Lanfrey has nothing to say about the 
romantic side, the serious conversations with scholars whom Bonaparte had 
invited to Egypt, the admiration for ancient monuments. He is more interested 
in the famous proclamation to the population, m which the invader presented 
lumself as nearly as possible as a Mohammedan. It is a striking example of Bona- 
parte’s propaganda style, but it was too crude to make the desired impression. 
And then, when the situation - what with the failure of the Syrian campaign 
and the defeat of the French fleet - became dangerous, and a crisis was developing 
ui France of the kind which he had always hoped to exploit, there was the return 
journey, alone, except for a small band of the best generals, leaving the army 
to the command of Kleber. Kleber, earnest and loyal republican, was deeply 
indignant at the impossible task with which he was burdened. He sent the 
Directorate a bitter accusation, fully substantiated. When it arrived, however, 
Kleber was dead, and so was the power of the Directorate. Bonaparte was First 
Consul, and could take on himself the adjudication of the charge made against 
him. He published it, with the most tendentious and dishonest annotations; 
and who was then going to call him to account? 1 


That Lanfrey must look upon Bonaparte’s accession to power with emotions 
other than those of Thiers or Lefebvre is now intelligible. His attitude will be 
that of Mignet or Quinet. But his introduction was intended to provide the 
reader with something more than theoretical principles or general ideas. He 
was to be made to see and as it were to touch the truth that nothing good could 
be expected of this man, that France would not be safe in his hands. The coup 
d'etat of Brumaire itself is laid bare with all the deceit and lies. 2 And the story 
does not end with Brumaire. 

Thiers, as we saw, considers that until the unhappy affair of the Due d’Eng- 
liien in 1804 Bonaparte behaved like a philosopher at the head of the State. 
Lanfrey, on the other hand, shows the extent to which in the years after the 
1 8th Brumaire the First Consul resorted to stratagem and broken promises, 
in order to get rid of those lunitations to his power which still existed, and how 

1. 1, 414 if. I must here add the warning that all these matters could be presented very 
differently. For example, the opposition in the Five Hundred against Bonaparte’s Italian 
policy was most certainly to a large extent royalist, or at any rate an instrument in the 
hands of those royalists who were aiming to overthrow the Republic; Kleber’s accusation 
was greatly exaggerated, according to other authorities, and Bonaparte had done what 
he could for the army he left behind: see for example Madelin, Histoire du Consulat 
ct de VEmptre. 

2 I bhall deal with this subject more fully in connexion with Albert Vandal. 



impatiently lie reacted to any criticism or independence. It goes without saymg 
that Lanfrey will not ignore the protests of doctrinaire republicans still sittmg 
on representative bodies. That these no longer had public opinion behind them 
does not put an end to the argument, for him: one may, if one likes, call him a 
doctrinaire or abstract liberal on that account. Certainly it was the uncritical 
approbation of the people which made it possible for Bonaparte to draw the 
stmgs of parliamentarians and journalists. But the people were to be cheated in 
the end. Besides, Lanfrey argues, there are methods which no thin g can excuse. 

Leaving aside Lanfrey’s treatment of Bonaparte’s constructive work as First 
Consul, to which I shall have occasion to return later, I shall give one example 
of this point, in connexion with an incident concerning winch I have already 
briefly quoted Bignon. 1 

These first years had also had their conspiracies. Just before Christmas 1800, 
an ‘infernal machine’ exploded in the street as the First Consul was driving to 
the Opera. He was unhurt, but there were a number of dead and wounded. 
Bonaparte took this opportunity to purge the left opposition. In spite of con- 
siderable reluctance on the part of his nearest associates (he was as yet far from 
being the Emperor at whose voice all objections ceased), he forced through an 
extraordinary measure: one hmidred and thirty well-known republicans - they 
were for the occasion called terrorists - were proscribed without any legal pro- 
cess. Among them were quite a number who had opposed him simply on grounds 
of principle, men, for example, who had resisted the coup d’etat of Brumaire in 
the previous year and whom he hated for that reason. The hundred and thirty 
were either interned or deported, and most of them failed to survive the climate 
of Guiana. 

But a few days after the decree, Fouche, Minister of Police, who had not for 
one moment believed that the republicans were guilty, found the real perpe- 
trators of the crime. They were right-wing opponents, chouans, royalists. The 
new batch of prisoners were found guilty and guillotined, but the Jacobins who 
had been deported were not set free. Bonaparte was much too pleased to be rid 
of them, and he had had the foresight to see that the ground for proscription was 
given in the decree as concern for the safety of the State, not the attempt of 24 
December. He laughingly pointed this out to a member of the Council of State 
who had the courage to come and plead for the innocent victims. 2 3 

Thiers too gives these facts.* The conduct of Fouche he condemns, but he 
says of Bonaparte, without a word of blame, that he troubled himself little about 

1. See p. 44, and Lanfrey ii, 264 fF. 

2. I must point out here that I take this from Lanfrey, who does not give his source - 
certainly memoires. 

3. 1, 211b. 

9 1 


‘ uiioi tliodox methods ’, provided he was rid of the * general staff of the Jacobins’. 
It is only in reading Lanfrey’s account that the real cruelty and hideousness of 
such arbitrary action emerges, and Thiers’s later remark about Bonaparte’s 
‘ cactir genet eux et bon * acquires an odd flavour. 

BOURBONS (l808) 

There is one incident in Napoleon’s career, undefended save by his most fervent 
supporters, 1 which did him an immeasurable amoimt of harm at the time, and 
which in its consequences contributed to his fall. This was the dethroning of the 
Spanish Bourbons in 1808. We have seen that neither Bignon nor Armand 
Lefebvre concealed their disapproval (pp. 44 and 53). 

The old weak King of Spain, Charles IV, was a Bourbon, a direct descendant 
of Louis XIV, whose grandson had acquired the Spanish throne in 1700 after 
the Spanish Habsburg line had died out. Under the influence of his wife and her 
lover Godoy, who was Prime Minister and was known by the somewhat ridicu- 
lous title of Prince of the Peace, Charles IV had all the time held fast to the alliance 
with France, in spite of the fate of his relative Louis XVI. How little this could 
be relied upon, however, Napoleon had discovered in 1806, when Godoy, who 
thought that the war with Prussia would prove the grave of imperial greatness, 
revealed lus secret hostility - just too soon, for immediately afterwards came the 
battle of Jena. Although Godoy beat a hasty retreat, even agreeing to the dis- 
patch of a Spanish army corps to the Baltic to purchase his forgiveness, the 
Emperor had not forgotten. After the fall of the Bourbons in France and in 
Naples, where he had driven them out himself, he regarded the continued ex- 
istence of the rival dynasty - for in that light he now saw the relationship between 
Bourbons and Bonapartes - as a dangerous anomaly. In addition, the weak mis- 
government of Charles IV and Godoy offended Napoleon in what one mi°-ht 
call Iris professional self-respect, and harmed his interests in so far as it destroyed 
the value of Spain as an ally. 

Now at last the moment had come for Napoleon to give Iris attention to the 
affairs of Spain, and it was the most radical solution to which he felt hims elf 
driven. The Bourbons were to be forced to abdicate, and their place was to be 
taken by one ofliis brothers. It was true that Ferdinand, the heir, had approached 
him. Ferdinand’s quarrel with his mother and his attempts to open the eyes of 
his father had given rise to a scandal, in which Spanish opinion was passionately 

r. For example by Prince Napoleon (see below); others who condemn it emphasize 
sttongly the objectionable nature of the Spanish Bourbons and Napoleon’s conviction 
that he could do better than they (e.g. Vandal, see below). 



on Ms side; with him the nation was ready to await deliverance at the hands of 
the great Napoleon. But Ferdinand displayed a pitiable weakness and lack of 
loyalty in tills family quarrel, and though the Spanish people were not disillu- 
sioned, it is not surprising that Napoleon was not very anxious to put his trust 
in him. What gives so unpleasant an air to the whole business is the manner in 
which he carried out his scheme. 

He already had troops in Spain, on their way to Portugal, where the British 
had landed - the beginning of great events. More and more Frenchmen arrived, 
and fewer and fewer went on to Portugal. No explanation was given. Murat 
was in command of these troops in Spain, but not even he was told of Napoleon’s 
intentions. Suddenly, in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, there was a 
revolt against the miserable trio of husband, wife, and lover, and at Aranjuez 
the King was forced to abdicate in favour of Ferdinand. Not for a moment did 
Napoleon think of allowing tliis event to shake Ms resolution, and he continued 
at first to recognize Charles IV. Under French protection, still accompanied by 
Ms wife and Godoy, Charles renounced his forced abdication. TMs was now 
to serve as a weapon in Napoleon’s hand against Ferdinand. But as long as the 
Prince was surrounded by Ms Spaniards, Napoleon was careful not to disturb 
Ms hope that at the final account the French would be on his side. Murat was 
still left in the dark, but meanwHle Napoleon had sent Savary to Spain, Savary, 
the man he liked to use for delicate tasks, for the dirty work, one might say. 
Of him he said: ‘If I ordered Savary to murder Ms wife and cMldren, I know 
he would do it without a moment’s hesitation . . .’ Savary’s task was to entice 
the ingenuous Ferdinand to France. There, at Bayonne, Napoleon was to com- 
pose the differences between him and Ms parents. 

The King and Queen, with Godoy, were brought to tMs frontier town, and 
there too came Ferdinand, still the darling and the hope of Ms people, and never 
suspecting but that Napoleon would confirm him in Ms recent greatness. But 
he found himself in a trap. From the first he was virtually a prisoner and was 
told he must relinquish Ms crown. With a certain devilish glee, if Lanfrey is 
to be believed, Napoleon watched the unedifying and noisy scene between 
father and son. Old Charles threw himself into Ms arms as though he were Ms 
saviour. Ferdinand resisted for a long time, but coward as he was, he crumpled 
up when Napoleon openly threatened Ms life, and he recognized Ms father as 
King. The father then handed Ms crown to Napoleon, who gave it to Joseph, 
andajuntaoffrancopMl Spaniards summoned to Bayonne confirmed the choice. 
Ferdinand and Ms brothers remained in France under observation. It was an 
ironical touch, typical of Napoleon, that he chose Talleyrand for the * honourable ’ 
task, as he described it, of offering them hospitality on Ms estate, for Talleyrand 
had for a long time been opposed to the whole tendency of Ms foreign policy 



and particularly disliked diis Spanish adventure. Or did he perhaps play a 
double game? Was he, while really urging Napoleon to the action he took, trynig 
to hide his own responsibility from the outside world? Concerning this and other 
matters to do with this complicated character there are conflicts of opinion; 
but even if the second mterpretation be the correct one, the task must have been 
given to Talleyrand with the intention of compromising him. 

Europe reacted with shocked abhorrence. There was the terror of the old 
dynasties at the upsetting of one of their number by that son of the Revolution, 
the role which Napoleon again saw himself acting. Worse still was the violent 
recoil in Spam itself, where the French had not been unpopular as long as they 
could be expected to support Ferdmand, but where now the betrayal of Bayonne 
was all the more keenly felt. Even before that tragi-comedy was played to a 
finish, there had been a rising in Madrid on 2 May 1808 against the French 
occupation. Murat suppressed it with much bloodshed, and Napoleon did not 
doubt but that ‘tins good lesson’ 1 would ensure peace in the future. He was 
revolving great plans for Spam. If he brushed the Bourbons so unceremoniously 
aside, it was that he might set up under his own auspices - for Joseph would 
really be merely lus lieutenant - an up-to-date regime in that backward priest- 
ridden country. He would regenerate them, he promised the Spaniards; their 
children would bless him. They themselves certainly did not. Dos May os became 
a battle cry for the Spaniards. Who does not remember the terrifying picture 
of hate and resistance winch Goya’s imagination created from the executions of 
that day? A popular revolt was organized throughout the country, led by the 
aristocracy and inspired by the priests, which made Joseph’s rule a hopeless 
undertaking from the very first, and this was to prove a turning point in the 
history of Napoleon. Spam, with the British on the spot, remained a continuous 
drag on his system, and no less important than the military aspect was the moral 
impression made in Germany and elsewhere. 

As I have said, practically all writers recognize Napoleon’s error, though 
not always with the same intensity. Lanfrey treats the whole deceitful business 
with cold contempt; he lays it bare point by point, to bring out the whole 
treacherous intention. He puts far more emphasis than Thiers on the complete 
belief in brute force and power. This he shows was the basis of Napoleon’s action, 
contempt for a people as such, a conviction that every nation will allow itself 
to be moulded into the desired shape by the use of a sufficiently strong force, 
in this connexion he has one very remarkable point. 

There appeared in the Mimorial de Sainte-Helene 2 a letter from Napoleon to 
Murat, purporting to have been written on 29 March, that is, between the rising 

1 * ^ rom bis letter of 6 May, Lanfjrey iv, 297. 

2. Under the date 12 June, i8i<5. 



of Aranjuez and the meeting at Bayonne. Although they found no minute of 
it, and there was no trace of the original among Murat’s papers, the editors of 
the great Correspondance inserted the letter as an authentic document: its 
having been communicated to Las Cases on St Helena by Napoleon seemed to 
them sufficient. Nevertheless, when the rest of the story is known, it makes 
curious reading. From Napoleon’s day-to-day correspondence with Murat 
and with Savary - which was not of course known at the time when the Memorial 
was published - it appears that the Emperor had the threads of the intrigue 
firmly in his hands and was controlling everything In tins one letter, however, 
we see him hesitating. He lectures Murat for having given him incorrect 
information concerning the state of public opinion in Spam. He warns him 
not to go too fast. He prophesies the whole obstinate resistance of the Spanish 
people, and foresees the furious energy they were to display. Something seems 
to be wrong here. What are we to make of it? 

Thiers, who already knew the other letters of Napoleon, has recognized the 
existence of a problem here, and devotes an appendix to it . 1 He asks himself 
whether it is a forgery. But the letter bears the indubitable marks of Napoleon’s 
style. Is it possible that Napoleon put it together himself on St Helena, to pro- 
vide an excuse for the crudest error of his reign? This solution, too, Thiers 
rejects, firstly because one unimportant fact, which Napoleon could not possibly 
have remembered, is correctly mentioned in it, but also because the great Em- 
peror was too proud to stoop to such a trick . 2 Finally he gets out of the difficulty 
by suggesting that Napoleon wrote the letter during a moment of doubt occa- 
sioned by some particular piece of information, but never sent it. He must have 
forgotten on St Helena that he had not sent it. , . . 

Lanfrey is scornful 3 of the way in which idolatry and his critical spirit struggle 
for mastery of Thiers’s mind. The only advantage presented by the desperately 
forced conclusion was that it allowed him to proclaim the ‘almost superhuman’ 
perspicacity which even in this case his hero displayed, without - it had to be 
admitted - any practical results . . . And yet it is so obvious that this is just another 
of Napoleon’s customary tricks, by which he hoped to create just that unmerited 
impression and so put the blame for his mistake on someone else who might 
be supposed to have misled him with over-optimistic information, on Murat 
who was no longer in a position to answer when Napoleon indited that charm- 
ing piece of fiction, because he was dead, shot by the Austrians. As for Napoleon 
being too proud, was he not quite at home in the art of forgery? Every day he 
packed the Moniteur with trumped-up diplomatic dispatches, fanciful news 

1. In the later part of volume n; volume vm of the Paris edition. 

2 . II, 663b. 

3. iv, 265 ff. 



from abroad, debates in die Chambers, edited to suit his purpose. And is not 
every line of the massive memoues of St Helena a lie? 

Thus Lanfrey. There is no question but that he was right in considering the 
letter as a forger} 7 . Whether Napoleon was actually the author is another matter, 
on winch I do not venture to pass judgement. 1 


I shall now introduce another case, in some respects reminiscent of the previous 
one. It does not involve falsification this time, but it does show that for Napoleon 
to put the blame on others was nothing unusual. At the same time it once more 
illustrates Thiers’s tendency to credulity. 

In 1809, when Rome and the Papal State had been occupied for a full year 
In Napoleon’s troops, and were in practice governed by him, relations with the 
Pope - that same gentle Pius VII with whom the Concordat had been arranged 
and w ho had visited Paris to crown Napoleon - had become so strained that the 
Imperor’s not very large stock of patience was exhausted, and he decided to 
remove his refractory antagonist from Rome. I shall have more to say later con- 
cerning the view taken of Napoleon’s actions with regard to the ecclesiastical 
problem. Here I am merely concerned with the question whether it was really 
he v ho decided upon the abduction of the Pope. 

The Emperor was at Schoenbrunn (where he stayed for quite a time after 
Wagram) when he heard that the thing was done, and he appeared extremely 

I take it ill that the Pope has been arrested; it is a very foolish act. They ought to 
have arrested Cardinal Pacca, and have left the Pope quietly at Rome. 

Thiers, who publishes tills letter to Fouche, dated 18 July 1809, in a footnote 
writes that ‘Napoleon greatly deplored the act of violence which had been 
resorted to’. 2 Rut immediately before, Thiers had]given other letters from Schoen- 
bruim, dated a month earlier, in which Napoleon wrote to Murat, who was 
then King of Naples and who had to keep an eye on affairs in Rome: 

1. Ph. Gonnard, Les origines de la legende napoleonienne (Paris ‘thesis’, 1906), draws 
attention to the fact that the document, which he regards as a forgery, was published in 
the periodical La bibliotheque historique, with other forgeries, in 1819, that is, while 
Napoleon was still alive and before the Memorial appeared. It is also produced in Ricits 
de k caphvitc, by another member of the St Helena group, Montholon, published in 1847. 
It is there given as having been dictated to Montholon by Napoleon, a considerable time 
after the departure of Las Cases. Gonnard’s theory (op, cit. p. no ff.) that Napoleon 
could not therefore have forged it himself does not convince me. 

2. in, 212b. 



I have already let you know that it is my intention that affairs in Rome be conducted 
with firmness, and that no form of resistance should be allowed to stand in the 
way ... If the Pope, against the spirit of his office and of the Gospels, preaches 
revolt and tries to misuse the immunity of his domicile to have circulars printed, he 
is to be arrested . . . Philip the Fair 1 had Boniface arrested, Charles V kept Clement 
VII in prison for a long period, and those popes had done less to deserve it. 

This was the letter which served as authority to the French officials in Rome* 
Thiers believes that Napoleon later regretted having given this instruction. 

Lanfrey’s interpretation is very different. He notes that Napoleon’s order, 
in spite of its severity, remains general and leaves something to the initiative of 
his subordinates. 4 He has no doubt that this was intentional, and indeed, did 
not the Emperor wash his hands of the whole business afterwards? In the letter 
to Fouche of 1 8 July he does not, as Thiers asserts, regret the instruction he gave; 
he writes as though no such instruction had been given. In a letter to Cambaceres, 
quoted by Lanfrey, he goes even further : 3 ‘The Pope was removed from Rome 
without my orders and against my wishes/ It is surprising, if that is the case, 
that he acquiesced in the accomplished fact. But indeed it is a flagrant untruth. 
It is all part of the system. In the Enghien affair, he sheltered behind the alleged 
over-hasty action of S a vary. In the case of Spain, it was Murat. And now it was 
Miollis, the Governor of Rome, who had to bear the discredit of a deed which 
Napoleon had undoubtedly wished done.* 

napoleon and literature 

Before I leave Lanfrey, there is one more subject with wider implications to 

One of the famous occasions in the life of Napoleon was his meeting with 
Goethe during the Congress of Erfurt in 1808. The intercourse with his friend 
of Tilsit, the Tsar, soon to be his enemy; the homage of the multitudes of German 
princes, to all intents and purposes his vassals, on some of whom he had bestowed 
their royal crowns; the quiet opposition of Talleyrand - all this has failed to 

1. King of France 1285-1314. 

2. Bignon, again the typical official, therefore refuses to regard it as an instruction. He 
says that a definite instruction from Napoleon would have named those who were to 
carry it out, the place of imprisonment, the route to be taken, etc. 

3. Lanfrey v, 16. 

4. One could make a comparison here with Queen Elizabeth I, who was also very 
ready to saddle her servants with the blame in difficult situations. The best known but 
certainly not the only example is that of her rage against Davison on the pretext that he 
had given the order for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots without her authority. 




dim the memory of the encounter between the Emperor and the poet. It is worth 
while noting the differences in the historical treatment of the episode. 

From Thiers’s account, one would hardly guess that perhaps not everything 
was quite as it should be. 1 He describes Napoleon at a soiree of the Duke of Saxe- 
Weimar, whose minister Goethe was, having a long conversation with Goethe 
and Wicland. He spoke of Tacitus, in whose dark picture of Imperial Rome 
he said he did not believe; he spoke of Werther, was extremely gracious, and ‘let 
the two famous writers see that he deserted the cream of noble society for their 
sake’. Finally ‘he left them flattered, as they well might be, by so distinguished 
an attention’. He afterwards presented them with the Order of the Legion of 
Honour, ‘a distinction which they deserved on every ground, and which lost 
nothing of its brilliance by being given to men of their merit’. 

One might conceive a report in the Moniteur drawn up in this style. Thiers is 
obviously overwhelmed by the honour done to Goethe. He does not even work 
himself up to lyrical raptures, such as have often been indulged in, concerning 
the Man of Action and the Man of Thought, face to face, each doing honour to 
himself in his appreciation of the merits of the other. Of course, as Thiers knew 
no German, or very little, Goethe was not much more than a name to him, while 
Napoleon was not only his hero, but in his estimation a very great mind as well. 
Some chapters before he had discussed the condition of French literature under 
Napoleon and had been obliged to admit that it was not much to boast of. 2 
Chateaubriand, certainly, must be called a writer, though Thiers did not care 
much for all that nostalgia for the past. But, and here our practical-minded 
author lets himself go, ‘that age did have one immortal writer, deathless as 
Caesar. It was the ruler himself, a great writer because he was a great mind, 
inspired orator in his proclamations, the singer of his own epic actions in his 
military dispatches, powerful exponent of policy in his inn umerable letters, 
articles in the Moniteur \ and so on. ‘How wonderful was this man’s destiny, 
to be die greatest writer of his age as well as its greatest commander, legislator, 
and administrator !* It is not to be wondered at that Thiers considered Goethe 
to be the one honoured when the two met. 

That Lanfrey was not rendered dizzy by the spectacle of His Majesty the 
Emperor of the French doing honour to a great poet, will be readily believed. 
But on top of the many reservations we have seen this stem critic make when 
dealing with the greatness that seemed so blinding to Thiers, came his conviction, 
which in fact he shared with Mine de Stael, Chateaubriand, and Quinet, tha t 
Napoleon had a nefarious influence upon the literary life of France. 

Thiers saw grounds for commiseration of Napoleon in the fact that the con- 
temporary literary scene was not more brilliant. He took enough trouble about 

i. ii, 583b ff. 2. 11, 363b. 



it. There were prizes, annuities. He demanded a report from each section of 
the Institute on the progress of literature and the arts. In the Council of State when 
the chairman of the section of literature had read his report - ‘simple, forceful, 
elevated’ - he answered with a few short sentences of which Thiers says: ‘If 
governments are to meddle with the works of the human mind, may they always 
do it in so noble a manner . . . Moreover Napoleon was able to give that most 
fruitful of encouragements, the approval of genius.’ 1 

Lanfrey, on the other hand, made Napoleon’s despotism answerable for the 
petrified condition of the literary landscape. As to prizes, who can read the list 
of names without laughing? And the two great figures, Chateaubriand (whom 
Tillers mentions here without recalling the awkward fact) and Mmc de Stael 
(whom he does not mention in this connexion at all), were in disgrace because 
they were too independent, because they had the courage to put the mind above 
material power and did not abase themselves in the dust before success. Mme 
de Stael was obliged to seek in Germany for the French spirit, enslaved by its 
government. 2 Her book (De VAllemagne, 1810) was banned, and Savary, now 
Minister of Police, ‘the hero of so many unpleasant or sinister jobs’, wrote an 
unmannerly letter to her in which, between gibes, he explained that her book 
was ‘un-French’. The Press, which Napoleon described as ‘a public service’, 
was under control, the number of news-sheets soon reduced to one for each 
dfyartement , and all types of journal, including scholarly and ecclesiastical, 
subject to the arbitrary powers of the censor. There were annuities too, granted 
by the Emperor, but they were charged accordmg to the whim of the moment 
on the budget of some periodical, which kept quiet and paid up. Nothing 
bloomed in France save official flattery and rhetoric. 

Sire [thus the President of the Senate addressed Napoleon after Tilsit] these are 
miraculous achievements for which probability would have asked centuries, and 
for which a few months have sufficed to Your Majesty ... It is impossible worthily 
to praise Your Majesty. Your glory is too great. One has to place oneself at the 
distance of posterity to become aware of your immeasurable elevation. 

And the President of the Court of Appeal: 

Napoleon stands above human history. He stands above admiration; our love 
alone can rise to his level. 

And a prefect: 

Truly, these miracles surpass our capacity. Only the astonished silence which 
admiration imposes upon us can express them. 3 

But the false pathos and hollow rhetoric are even more repulsive than these 

i. n, 364a. 2. Lanfrey v, 306. 3. iv, 178. 



hyperboles. When Napoleon called once again on his Frenchmen to show him 
their love and give him the necessary support, this time for the restoration of 
order' in Spain, which ‘was to assure die safety of their children’, the same 
President of the Senate answered: 

Anarchy, that blind and ferocious monster, of which the genius of Napoleon has 
freed France, has lighted its torches and reared its scaffolds in the heart of Spain. 
England has been quick to throw her phalanxes into that country and to plant her 
standards among the terrible banners of the satellites of the Terror. The Emperor’s 
strong right arm shall liberate the Spaniards. Ah, what a comfort must this 
generous decision of Napoleon be to the royal shades of Louis XIV, Francis I, 
and of Henry the Great . . . The French will respond to his sacred voice. He is 
asking for a new pledge of their love. With what glowing hearts will they run 
to meet him . 1 

That was the tone of the period. How differently Chateaubriand spoke - it was 
his immortal merit - when, albeit tucked away in a book review in his Mercure * 
he dared to write a passage like the following : 

When in the silence of humiliation there is no sound save the clanking of the 
slave’s fetters and the voice of the informer, when everything trembles before the 
tyrant, and to earn his favour or incur his wrath implies equal danger, then the 
historian appears to avenge the peoples. It is in vain that Nero prospers; the Empire 
has already borne a Tacitus. 

The paper passed from hand to hand, and the brave words were greedily 
read. Young Guizot comes to Coppet and knows them by heart. He has to recite 
them to Mine de Stael and her circle of friends, who listen breathlessly . 3 But 
the censor stifles the discordant sound immediately, and once more the air is 
full of the sickening chant of hypocrites and flatterers. ‘In Inis ascent,* writes 
Lanfrey, ‘Napoleon already understood how false rhetoric might be used for 
the benefit of his false greatness, and so had given it the encouragement of his 

It is hardly necessary for me to state that to regard Napoleon the writer and 
orator as an empty rhetorician betrays as much partiality as to proclaim him the 
greatest writer of his century. But it will now at least have become clear that the 
scene of Napoleon making himself pleasant to Goethe could affect Lanfrey with 
nothing but contemptuous boredom. As he saw it, moreover, Napoleon was 
oppressing and humiliating Goethe’s fatherland. We shall see later that here, 
too, other views were possible. For German patriots at any rate it was natural 

1. rv, 398 ff. 

2. iv, 192. See above, p. 19, for a previous allusion to this famous article. 

3. P. Gautier, Mme de Stael et Napoleon (1902). 



to be pained by the scene enacted at Weimar, though a Frenchman needed to 
have steeped his mind in the liberalism of Mme de Stael to understand this. There 
were actually Germans, says Lanfrey, who glorified Goethe because he was able 
to rise above these low earthly conflicts. They ought to take example from 
the poet himself, who said apologetically to Eckermann that it is not everyone's 
task to fight. In his reminiscences of the talk with the Emperor, Goethe notes, 
not without satisfaction, that after looking at him silently for a few minutes, 
Napoleon cried: ‘ Vous etes un homme, monsieur de Goethe Lanfiey comments: 
‘Great praise indeed; and deserved, at that. But while we admit that Goethe 
was certainly a man in the highest sense of the word, we must add that on this 
occasion he was but a courtier.’ 1 

Although Thiers so often speaks of the ever-growing tyranny of Napoleon 
and of its injurious effects on French society, yet when one reads writers such 
as Quinet and Lanfrey, the older man seems at times to be lacking in the true 
sense of spiritual freedom. We get the same impression from reading another 
book which appeared towards the end of Napoleon Ill’s regime, and which 
dealt in particular with the relations between the First Consul and the Church. 

i. iv, 410. 

4 Comte d’Haussonville 

We have already touched upon aspects of Napoleon’s ecclesiastical policy, and 
have noticed differences of opinion with regard to it. With the work of d’Haus- 
sonville we meet for the first time a systematic and thorough treatment, from a 
point of view which, though liberal, I would regard as primarily religious, and 
if we take Bignon, or perhaps rather Thiers, as typical of a worldly etatisme , 
we shall be able to make comparisons. For the convenience of the reader, how- 
ever, I shall begin with a survey of the events such as would be acceptable to 
all writers whatever their tendency. 


The Revolution had begun by trying, in spite of the protests of Pius VI, to force 
upon the Church a ready-made settlement, the Constitution civile du clergi. This 
attempt had merely led to persecution, and within the Church to confusion and 
out-and-out schism. It was abandoned in 1795, and the State ceased entirely 
to meddle with the Church, in theory at any rate. In practice, the Church was 
no better off under the separation regime now prevailing. The clergy felt itself 
misunderstood and ill-treated, and its attitude to the Republic remained hostile. 
The reconciliation effected by the Concordat was valuable to Bonaparte, be- 
cause it afforded him the gratitude of the priests, who were in any case subjected 
to his influence by the recognition of his right to appoint bishops. This gratitude 
was understandable. The Pope felt it too, in spite of his irritation over the Organic 
Articles which the First Consul unexpectedly tacked on to the Concordat. 
The unity of the Church had been restored, it had a recognized position in the 
State and was relieved of financial worries, and there was matter for satisfaction 
in the mere fact that the attempt to impose a revolutionary Constitution civile , 
with a view to withdrawing the French Church completely from the Pope’s 
authority, had failed. More than that, in order to facilitate the reorganization 
of the Church, Bonaparte got the Pope to dismiss the whole episcopate. For the 
impatient dictator, this was the easiest way to break the resistance of royalist 
and of ‘constitutional’ bishops. To far-seeing Rome, it was an unhoped-for 
and unheard-of precedent for papal interference, a negation of apparently vic- 
torious Gallicanism, 

10 ? 


How grateful the Pope remained, and how set on good relations with the 
powerful son of the Revolution, was apparent in 1804, when, not without much 
inner conflict, he allowed himself to be persuaded to come to Paris and conse- 
crate as Emperor the second Charlemagne, indeed, the greater Charlemagne, 
for the earlier ruler was crowned only in Rome, in the papal city. But after this 
event relations soon became strained. The Pope was disappointed that his sen- 
sational step brought him no concessions in respect of ecclesiastical grievances 
or ambitions. Moreover, after the tremendous extension of Napoleon’s power 
policy arising out of the defeat of Austria at Austerhtz, the overthrow of Italy 
and the subsequent inclusion of the Papal States in the French system gave the 
Pope as temporal prince every reason to tremble for his independence. Napoleon 
would brook no neutrality within his orbit. After the victory, all resistance to 
his wishes and schemes for the reorganization of Europe irritated him more 
than ever. 

Already in February 1 806 he had written a letter to the Pope full of complaints 
and reprimands. It included the famous dictum: ‘Your Holiness is sovereign 
of Rome, but I am its Emperor ; all my enemies must be those of Your Holiness.’ 
Hie gentle Pius (who was so much more capable of resistance than the Emperor 
imagined) answered proudly ‘There is no Emperor of Rome’, and maintained 
his full sovereignty. Napoleon was no longer accustomed to hearing such lan- 
guage - and from this feeble creature, too ! Continual difficulties over the applica- 
tion of the Continental System, which he was demanding from all his alhes 
and vassals, aggravated a relationship which was already hopelessly disturbed. 

In 1808 Napoleon ordered the occupation of the Papal States, including Rome. 
The defiant attitude subsequently maintained by the Pope in his capital annoyed 
Napoleon in the extreme. In 1809, after Wagram, a victory which seemed to 
have brought Europe to submission, he issued the decree from Schoenbrunn 
whereby as heir of Charlemagne, the original donor of the temporal power, and 
vested in his rights, he declared the sovereignty of Pius over the Papal States 
abolished. When Pius answered with excommunication, he was immediately 
taken away, and after being carried to Grenoble was finally interned at Savona 
on the Gulf of Genoa, which was then of course part of the French Empire. 

The Pope now refused to carry out any papal functions, on the grounds that 
he was not at liberty and was out of reach of his councillors. The cardinals had 
been called to Paris when he was removed, and graced Napoleon’s court festivi- 
ties in their crimson robes while the Head of the Church was in bondage. The 
most zealous upholders of church law in the Sacred College, however, thirteen, 
in number, fell into disfavour with the Emperor in February 1810, when they 
failed to attend the reception given after his marriage with Marie Louise. Indeed, 
important issues were raised by this abstention. The declaration of nullity of 



Napoleon’s marriage with Josephine had taken place quite independently of 
the Pope, in the Officiality of Paris. Naturally this ecclesiastical court was unable 
to refuse any request of Napoleon’s, but was it within its powers to give a ver- 
dict of tliis kind? The demonstration made by the thirteen seemed to cast doubt 
on the legality of the new marriage and of the hoped-for heir. The Emperor 
was furious. They had to doff their crimson robes - hence the nickname by 
which they were known, the ‘black cardinals’ - and were interned in various 
parts of France. 

There was at least one function which only the Pope could perform, and which 
was essential to the satisfactory management of affairs in the French Church, 
according to the Concordat. Tliis was the canonical ‘institution’ of bishops 
‘nominated’ by the Emperor, who became bishops only by that papal act. Even 
before his imprisonment, the Pope’s refusal to institute bishops had perpetuated 
vacancies in Germany, where he was already at loggerheads with many of the 
princes owing to the secularizations after the peace of Luneville in 1801. And 
what concerned Napoleon even more, although he was increasingly involved 
in German affairs, was that the Pope was doing the same thing in Italy. In Feb- 
ruary 1 8 io the Emperor issued a senatus consulte by which he hoped to cut the 
Gordian knot. Tliis arranged the particulars of the annexation of Rome by the 
French Empire. Rome was to be the second city of the Empire. The heir to the 
throne, still to be bom (but the All-Powerful expressed himself quite positively 
concerning his sex) would have the title of King of Rome. A prince of the blood 
was always to hold his court in Rome, and the popes, bound to the Empire by 
a handsome allowance and an oath of allegiance, would spend part of their time 
at the Emperor’s side in Paris, whither the papal offices and boards would be 
transferred, henceforth to be maintained on the imperial budget. Was there any 
chance of getting the Pope to agree to these arrangements? Napoleon thought 
it possible. Faced with his supreme power, urged on by so many cardinals and 
by the majority of the higher ranks of French clergy, how could the Pope avoid 
bowing to the inevitable? 

However, the opposition of the Pope to the Emperor’s plans was unexpectedly 
discovered to be much stronger than the latter had imagined. Napoleon had 
decided to make his nominees for the vacant sees (of which there were now twenty- 
seven) fulfil their functions even without canonical institution, by prevailing 
upon the chapters of the various sees to give them vicarial powers. The canons, 
whatever their reasons and feelings, gave their cooperation, and finally the 
Emperor had commanded the nominees to go to their dioceses and to take up 
their duties. Scarcely had this taken place, when at the end of 1810 his police 
got wind of letters from Pius smuggled out of Savona to trusted canons in the 
chapters of Paris and of Florence, urging them in no way to recognize the arch- 



bishops nominated by Napoleon but not instituted by himself, and not to give 
them vicarial powers. This discovery was not such as to incline Napoleon to 
concessions. He was stung to violent outbursts of rage. One of these achieved 
notoriety. Its immediate object was his Privy Counsellor Portalis, son of his 
former Minister of Cults and cousin of the Paris canon, recipient of a papal 
letter. The canon had made a clean breast of it to Portalis. Thereupon the latter 
had uttered a general warning to the Minister of Police to the effect that some- 
thing was afoot, without mentioning his cousin. ‘In league with my enemy! 
Traitor ! ’ Napoleon had shouted at him in full Council of State, and had finally 
ordered him out of the room, while the others remained silent and ill at ease. 
Napoleon also meted out severe punishments - imprisonment for an unspecified 
term - to the incautious canons, and more rigorous and oppressive treatment 
to his prisoner at Savona. The Pope was deprived of the few trusted followers 
who were still with him, and was guarded more closely than ever. 

At the same time Napoleon called a National Council in Paris to obtain the 
ecclesiastical approval for his programme, which he intended to use for putting 
pressure on the Pope. The threat in the background was the formation of a 
national church, a schism; and Napoleon, who had always compared himself 
with Charlemagne, at this time frequently let fall the name of Henry VUI. 
Conscious of this, and apprehensive of fresh troubles if there should be resistance 
to his power, a few French bishops obtained the Emperor’s permission to go to 
Savona before tbe opening of the Council, to persuade Pius to come to an agree- 
ment. They wrung from him a few reluctant promises, which they took down 
in writing, but which he partially retracted as soon as they had gone. 

Nevertheless, assertions concerning the Pope’s capitulation had to do service 
to influence the Council to a pronouncement in line with Napoleon’s policy. 
What the Emperor wanted was an arrangement concerning the episcopal in- 
stitution whereby if the Pope withheld it, the archbishop of the relevant see 
would be empowered to grant it. The main point to him certainly still was that 
the Pope should submit to the senatus consulte of February 1810, should resign 
himself to the loss of his temporal power and accept the comfortable dependence 
offered him; but to this he thought the Pope would have to come in any case, 
if the means of defence offered by institution escaped him. To Napoleon’s com- 
plete surprise, however, a hitch occurred over this apparently not so unreason- 
able pre limin ary demand. Anxious though the prelates were to carry out his 
wishes, and for all the terror inspired by the arrest of the canons of Paris and 
Florence, the clerical spirit, which individually could not but He low, roused 
itself to action in the assembly. Sympathy with the prisoner in Savona created 
an atmosphere in which these old, venerable, frightened ecclesiastics were moved 
to an attitude at which they were themselves surprised. In spite of all the efforts 



of die henchmen of die Minister of Cults in the assembly, and of the chairman - 
no less a person than Cardinal Fesch, the Emperor’s uncle - it proved impossible 
to pcisuade the Council to accept as a decree the draft agreement of Savona, 
which as we have seen had been disowned by the Pope in the meantime. More, 
the Council declared itself incompetent to deal with the institution question. 

Never had Napoleon felt himself so thwarted, in his own empire, and by 
those whom he called ‘my bishops’. Once again he had recourse to fury, penal 
measures, and a more rigid msistence on his policy. Three of the ringleaders 
(one of whom was the Bishop of Ghent with whom William I of Holland had 
trouble some years later) were arrested without warrant, like the canons, and 
thrown into prison. This frightened the remamder, so that the great majority 
agreed to the decree winch they had just rejected. Care had been taken, it is true, 
to make sure that they should not seek courage from one another. On the advice 
of the new Archbishop of Pans (who was recognized as such in practice, solely 
from fear of the consequences), the Minister of Cults had interviewed each 
member of the Council separately in his office. 

With the decree thus obtained, the bishops who had been at Savona before 
made another journey thither, and a couple of trustworthy - that is, of course, 
‘red’ - cardinals were also permitted to see the Pope. These clerical ambassadors 
were now able to obtain concessions from Pius on both the main points, the 
institution and the residence of the Pope in France at the State’s expense. Napo- 
leon, who received the news during his tour of Holland, was still not satisfied 
with certain reserves and claims made by the Pope. He ordered the negotiators, 
who were congratulating themselves on the peace they had achieved, to make 
further demands. The Pope, however, refused to make any more concessions. 
At that moment Napoleon’s mind became preoccupied with his plan for a cam- 
paign against Russia, and he considered that he would be able to impose all his 
desires when he returned, after a brief interval, crowned with fresh laurels and 
more powerful than ever. So the P/Ope was once more completely isolated in 
Savona, till in the summer of 1812 he was suddenly removed to Fontainebleau. 

At the end of that year, however, Napoleon came back from Russia, defeated. 
He felt his position endangered through loss of prestige, and in these circum- 
stances the ecclesiastical question, which he had once hoped to settle in his 
favour once and for all by the Concordat, seemed to him a danger. So to Fon- 
tainebleau this time went the same negotiators, but soon the Emperor arrived 
there himself. In the course of talks which lasted several days, he obtained his 
prisoner’s signature to the preliminaries of a new concordat in which his leading 
ideas were embodied, though in a weaker form than before his Russian campaign. 
One stipulation, however, which the Pope had refused to forgo was that his 
cardinals should have unimpeded access to him. No sooner had the ‘black car- 



dinals* arrived in Fontainebleau than the Pope realized, that the new Concordat 
was a mistake, indeed an offence against the Church, and he informed Napoleon 
that he withdrew his signature. Thus before the Emperor embarked on his 
German campaign, which was to be as disastrous as that of the previous year in 
Russia, he once more made war against the Church, ordered the arrest of a 
cardinal, threatened others, and conscripted seminarists from dioceses whose 
bishops had incurred his displeasure. 

To the defeats of 1813 succeeded the invasion of 1814. Once more Napoleon 
began to negotiate, but when the Pope said he wished for nothing but to return 
to Rome, he was allowed to leave Fontainebleau. At one moment, when 
Napoleon hoped that he might defeat the invaders, he sent orders to have him 
detained once more ; but he countermanded them after a fresh defeat. Only after 
the first abdication was the Pope able to return at last to his States. Of the rejected 
Concordat of Fontainebleau there was naturally no question any longer. Rela- 
tions between the Holy See and France remained based on the Concordat of 
1 801, and since an attempt made under the Restoration at a new settlement never 
led to anything, so they remained till 1906. 

the writer and his book 

Through his marriage to a daughter of the Due de Broglie, Comte d’Hausson- 
ville already belonged to that liberal elite which honoured the memory of Mme 
de Stael. De Broglie, himself a leading figure in that group, had married a 
daughter of the great writer. In religious matters the liberalism of these men was 
far removed from the Voltaireanism so powerful m France, so self-assured and 
often so intolerant. Nor did it savour of that spirit of secular bureaucracy which 
frequently seemed related to the other tendency, and which out of suspicion of 
the Church favoured its control by the State. D’Haussonville, in fact, was a 
practising Catholic. His combination of liberalism and Catholicism suggests 
the influence of Lamennais, an influence which remained a stimulating one to 
faithf ul Catholics even after Lamennais’s quarrel with Rome, while at the same 
time penetrating into Protestant circles. Montalambert’s slogan, ‘a free church 
in a free state’, was found convenient by a worldly-minded statesman such as 
Cavour, but when d’Haussonville uses it, as he does in his introduction, it can- 
not be doubted that he is arguing from the point of view of the Church, and it 
was out of consideration for rehgion that he advocated the separation of the 
two powers. Nevertheless, in so doing he showed a certain independence of 
Rome, for Pius IX had shortly before condemned this solution in his Syllabus 

He mdicatcs his point of view quite frankly in his introduction. Like Quinet 



lie reacts against the current glorification of the Concordat of 1801, but there is 
naturally no trace of Quinet’s impatient disapproval of Catholicism or of Rome. 
Both the clergy and officialdom, surprisingly enough, are pleased with the 
Concordat. The Church officially honours its tradition. But according to d’Haus- 
sonville it is the temporal partner in the combination that has the best of it, and 
the spiritual partner is blinded to the true interests of the Church by satisfaction 
with material advantages. Without saying so in so many words, and entirely 
m the spirit of Lamennais, he argues against the Galilean spirit, the worldly 
tradition of the French Church, its readmess to be dependent on the regime of 
the day. That this for him was the regime of Napoleon HI is really hardly rele- 
vant, since after every change, and the French had seen a good many, the Church 
never failed to accommodate itself with equal zest. It is true that under Napoleon 
III praise of the wisdom shown in 1801 and enthusiasm for the fine spectacle 
of 1804 and the joint display given by the Pope and the Emperor in Notre Dame 
were particularly fashionable, and d’Haussonville wishes to show that this view 
can only be supported from contemporary official phrase-making, that is to 
say from lies. He is desirous of seckmg the truth behind the outward appearance, 
and finds it in the official correspondence; he wants to show, too, how the un- 
edifymg scenes of 1809 and after, about which official spokesmen of his day 
preferred to remain silent, were implied in the origins of the existing connexion 
between Church and State. 


Napoleon the restorer of the altars, Napoleon the saviour of the Church - Pius 
VII himself never tired of testifying to that view. In the eyes of d’Haussonville, 
the pure, gentle, and thoroughly well-meaning Pius showed his weakness in 
this. The Pope was led to his position, as were most of the higher ranks of the 
clergy, by his conviction that the Church was now near to its total dissolution. 
The Revolution, and the devastation it had wrought in the field of religion, 
coming after a century of increasing scepticism, had profoundly shaken their 
confidence. It was not long since Pius VI had died on French soil, a prisoner of 
the Directorate after a revolt in Rome in which a French general had lost his 
life, and the Papal States had then become a republic. The Austrians had soon put 
an end to this situation, but the Pope had not found comfort from them for very 
long. In any case the French were there once more. What a blessing then that 
Bonaparte, the man sprung from the Revolution, talked of reconstruction. 
Pius VII and his circle were inclined to regard him as an instrument of heaven. 
His assurances that he would make religion respected once more were as balm 
for their souls. They trembled at his warnings that if they did not do what he 



wanted, lie would oppress religion still more, he would even destroy it, or (as 
was his favourite expression) ‘change' it. 

D’Haussonville considers this attitude defeatist and pusillanimous. Religion 
did not thus hearken to the commands of the First Consul. Regeneration was 
taking place spontaneously in the hearts of the multitude, and this process had 
begun before his accession. Thousands of priests were labouring in spite of in- 
difference or persecution. But the Church no longer dared trust to their power 
alone. When it allied itself with Bonaparte, the notion that he was indeed the 
restorer had to be officially accepted, and the hierarchy fell over itself to express 
its thankfulness and adulation. All this served to strengthen Bonaparte still 
more in his infatuation with absolute power, and made a conflict unavoidable. 

In their faint-heartednesr, the Pope and his councillors had shut their eyes to 
the fact that the First Consul was not himself a believer even though the Con- 
cordat asserted that the head of the French State was a practising Catholic. They 
had not allowed themselves to be deterred by his cynical remarks, which showed 
so clearly that he intended to use the Roman Catholic religion as he had used 
the Mohammedan in Egypt. Thus they passed over the Organic Articles, 
which still further increased the power of the State over the Church, already 
sufficiently established in the Concordat itself, and they ignored the lack of good 
faith displayed by Bonaparte when he surprised them with the Articles. 

If we now turn back to Thiers’s account of the birth of the Concordat, we 
find none of these doubts. That the promulgation of the Organic Articles (‘that 
wise and profound law’) 1 was an act of bad faith towards the Holy See, he con- 
tests with the argument that ‘it was purely a matter of French internal admin- 
istration, and did not concern the Holy See*. Nevertheless the Articles include 
regulations which forbid the publication of any bull, pastoral letter, or any 
other papal communication without permission of the government. There 
are others concerning the catechism, which is to be introduced for the whole 
country and for which the approval of the Government will be required; and 
concerning the four Gallican theses of 1682, which are to be taught to the clergy. 
The Holy See must obviously asseverate that these matters were indeed within 
its province, and if the French Government answered that they were all included 
within that Gallican tradition of 1682, ‘ces beaux principes de soumission et d’inde - 
pendance\ as Thiers says, 2 the Holy See might retort that for that very reason 
Rome had condemned those theses. What Thiers does dislike on the other hand, 
and what he regards as little short of bad faith, is the attempt of the papal nuncio 
to obtain at the eleventh hour a recantation from the ‘constitutional’ bishops - 
those, that is, who had worked under the Constitution civile and had thus become 
schismatics, and who were now included in the episcopate along with the former 
1. 1, 350b. 3. 1, 350a. 



reftadahes. The two writers start from such different points of view that one 
cannot expect them to agree in their evaluations. 

When Tliiers describes the induction of the Concordat with a solemn Te 
Deum in Notre Dame as the triumph of a wise and courageous policy of con- 
ciliation, he is undoubtedly, within certain limits, justified in his contention. 
The measure had to be pushed through against the opposition of the republican 
old guard in the representative bodies. The generals of an army bom of the 
Revolution only the day before almost rebelled against the order to attend the 
Te Deum . Only Bonaparte’s formidable ascendancy forced them, grumbling and 
scornful, to give way. Magnet 1 s story of a typical comment will be remembered 
(see p. 37). But however little the healing of the schism had touched the intellec- 
tuals of the Revolution, its soothing effect was noticeable in the country at 
large. There can be no doubt that the measure was popular with the masses, 
and on tins basis Bonaparte now ventured to introduce an amnesty for Emigres. 
D’Haussonville would find it difficult to deny all this, but he is concerned with 
tendencies and perils winch at the time were visible to very few. The remark- 
able fact about his position is that his dislike of the Concordat is based on 
considerations entirely different from those held by the contemporary- 
opposition. If that opposition was almost satisfied by the promulgation of 
the Organic Articles, for lum these make the whole transaction only more 

D ’Haussonville was the first to describe in detail the beginnings of the Con- 
cordat and its working under the Empire, but his point of view, though different 
with regard to Catholicism, is closely related to that of Quinet. This can be 
seen if both accounts are compared with that of Thiers. To my mind d’Hausson- 
ville’s view means an advance. One might ask if it is fair for the historian to 
approach a past action by the light of values and conceptions which were then 
scarcely valid. It goes without saying that his later wisdom does not justify him 
in taking up a patronizing attitude towards his characters, and that his imagina- 
tion must primarily help him to see them within the limits of their period. But 
with tlus proviso, the taking of a new perspective is an inalienable prerogative 
of the histoiian. More than that, it is only by doing so that historical presentation 
can be enriched and kept alive. 


D’Haussonville considers, then, that the Church underestimated its own strength, 
and moreover was insufficiently aware when it accepted the Concordat of the 
dangers threatening it from Bonaparte’s conception of the State and from his 
ambition. Pius and his councillors made the same mistake once more in 1804, 



when they reluctantly decided, in spite of many warnings, to go to Paris. Was 
this not a humiliation, a Canossa in reverse? Was it necessary to be a counter- 
revolutionary to take the view 1 that Pius took too httle account of Enghien’ s 
freshly spilt blood, or that religion lost as much as it gained when its represen- 
tative took his part in that ostentatious show, in that court of worldlings and 
atheists? The more so as bad faith had once more to be taken into account. For 
Pius, who certainly felt that his dignity and that of the Church was endangered, 
had stipulated among other matters that the coronation should take place accord- 
ing to precedents. In spite of this, at the last moment Napoleon took up the crown 
himself and placed it on his head. This was a symbolic gesture which delighted 
the whole anti-clerical section of the public, and which also corresponded to 
Napoleons own deepest conception of his attitude to the Church. But the Pope 
would never have left Rome merely to perform a consecration. 

I mentioned in an earlier chapter (p. 74) Thiers’s satisfaction at the scene in 
Notre Dame, where in his view the Revolution itself was consecrated by the 
Pope. The ruthless self-calculation of Napoleon in his relations with the Church 
he never noticed. With regard to the Organic Articles, which we know he thought 
a model of wisdom, that is not surprising, however much of a blow their unex- 
pected declaration was for the Pope and his Secretary of State, Consalvi. As 
regards Napoleon’s action in crowning himself, Thiers simply does not mention 
the bargain previously made. 2 

The worst of it was that all this confirmed Napoleon in his overweening pride, 
which was to prove a disaster for the world, but especially for the Church. 
Immediately after the signing of the Concordat, Pius and Consalvi were put 
in a difficult position because the First Consul intimated his desire to have Car- 
dinal Caprara and no other for papal nuncio. Thiers describes Caprara as a man 
‘too enlightened and too wise to appeal to the other cardinals’, 3 and when 
one thinks of the demands which Pius thought himself entitled to make after 
the coronation, and which could not possibly be granted, the judgement is 
intelligible. These demands were drawn up by the most reactionary party at 
the papal court and Caprara had warned against them. But in general Caprara’ s 
‘enlightenment’ appeared to consist in a blind zeal for the service of the First 
Consul, soon to be the Emperor. Even those cardinals who like Pius himself 

1. cf. Dr B artstra in Pelgrimstocht der mensheid, p. 508. 

2. Armand Lefebvre tries to prove Napoleon not guilty of deception, but on very 
weak grounds: Histoire des Cabinets, n. 

3. i» 613b. 



realized that a certain recognition of the new spirit was inevitable, regarded 
Caprara with the greatest suspicion. Weakness in respect of the powerful world- 
ling, which overcame them all at times, was with Caprara raised to a system. 
‘His absolute power is everywhere recognized/ he was in the habit of saying, 
‘and, given his character, the only way to save Rome from total defeat is to 
submit systematically to his wishes/ 1 Later Consalvi wrote that under pressure 
from Napoleon Caprara repeatedly acted arbitrarily, sometimes even against 
the strict orders of the Pope. More than once there was question of recalling 
him, but the necessary courage was never found. 

I shall deal with one instance only in which Caprara took his orders as it were 
from Paris rather than from Rome. Mme de Stael had already expressed her 
indignation concerning the section of the new catechism of 1806 which dealt 
with the duties of subjects to their Emperor. She did not know - and d Hausson- 
ville was the first to give documentary proof- that this chapter was forced upon 
the Church, which offered only feeble resistance. (Thiers has nothing on the 

Some years before, the Minister of Cults had set up a committee of clergy 
to draw up a catechism under his supervision. It was laid down in the Organic 
Articles that there should be one single liturgy and catechism for the whole 
Empire. It was not one of the provisions to which Rome objected, since the 
thought occurred to no one that Rome would not be consulted in this beneficent 
work of unification. And indeed as early as 1805 a project was handed to Caprara 
which he passed on to Rome. The Secretary of State, Consalvi, thereupon charged 
him most emphatically to prevent such a catechism being proclaimed. Not only 
did the draft document submitted contain errors, but it was fundamentally un- 
acceptable that the temporal power should dictate a catechism to the bishops: 
‘The Holy Father trusts that His Majesty will not take unto himself a function 
which God lias reserved for the Church and for the Vicar of Christ/ 2 In spite 
of this letter, dated September 1805, eight months later it was from the public 
Press, from the Journal de V Empire, that Consalvi learned of an imperial decree 
of 4 April 1806 which after specifically mentioning the approval of the nuncio 
Caprara, announced a catechism for the use of the whole Empire. It was actually 
published in August. On 11 March 1806 Caprara had given his formal approval 
in an interview with the Minister in his office. From the beginning the Minister 
had indeed been convinced, as he wrote to the Emperor, of the Cardinal's ‘good 
disposition', but he was nevertheless a little anxious lest he should raise ‘theo- 
logical quibbles'. Less than a fortnight after Caprara had removed these doubts, 
Napoleon wrote to Eugene de Beauhamais, his stepson and Viceroy of Italy, 
instructing him to buy for Caprara his palace in Bologna (where he was arch- 

1. D’Haussonville, 1, 145. 2. D’Haussonville, 11, 279. 



bishop), so as to relieve him of his monetary difficulties - . . Here we have the ex- 
planation of Caprara’s enlightenment, so praised by Thiers. 

And what were the duties of the subject according to the new catechism? 
The seventh lesson, which dealt with this, was for Napoleon and his Minister 
of Cults the one that mattered. The catechism had been practically ready for 
signature as early as 1803, but the First Consul saw the change in his position 
coming, and had suspended the work till he knew where he was. And now 
Portalis, in a letter to the Emperor, put forward the suggestion that a general 
statement of the duty of obedience to the ruler was not enough. Bossuet’s 
catechism merely laid it down that it was everyone’s duty according to the fourth 
commandment ‘to respect all superiors, pastors, kings, magistrates, and others’. 
‘History does not relate,’ writes d’Haussonville, ‘that Louis XIV regarded him- 
self as slighted because he was put after the pastors and only preceded the mag- 
istrates.’ But Portalis thought, and Napoleon heartily agreed with him, if indeed 
the idea was not originally his own, that it was necessary in present circum- 
stances ‘rightly to direct the submission of the subject’, and to mention the ruler 
by name. After a thorough exchange of views between Emperor and Minister, 
the ecclesiastical committee received a text which they dutifully adopted. It had 
become quite a treatise. 


Christians owe to the princes who rule them, and we in particular owe to Napoleon 
I, our Emperor, love, respect, obedience, loyalty, military service, the dues laid 
down for the conservation and the defence of the empire and of his throne; we also 
owe him fervent prayers for his safety and for the temporal and spiritual prosperity 
of the State. 

- Why do we owe all these duties towards our Emperor? 

Firstly, because God . . . plentifully bestowing gifts upon our Emperor, whether 
for peace or for war, has made him the minister of his power and his image upon 
earth. Secondly, because Our Lord Jesus Christ, both by his teaching and his 
example, has taught us himself what we owe to our Sovereign 

- Are there not particular reasons which should attach us more closely to 
Napoleon I, our Emperor? 

Yes, because it is he whom God has sustained, in difficult circumstances, so that 
he might re-establish public worship and the holy faith of our fathers, and that he 
might be their protector. He has restored and maintained public order by his 
profound and active wisdom; he defends the State with his powerful arm; he has 
become the anointed of the Lord by the consecration he has received from the 
sovereign pontiff, head of the universal Church. 

- What must one think of those who should fail in their duty to our Emperor? 

According to the apostle Paul, they would resist the established order of God 

himself, and would render themselves worthy of eternal damnation. 



Before the catechism was introduced, rumours of its contents liad got about, 
and the bishops were somewhat tioubled. One of them expressed his indigna- 
tion - the letter, it should be noted, was private ~ that such a glorification of the 
Emperor should be smuggled into religion. 

Is it within his province to take a hand in these matters? Who called upon him to do 
so? He is concerned with earthly affairs, we with heavenly. If we allow him to 
proceed, he will soon lay hands on the censer, and then perhaps will mount the 
altar. 1 

In practice, Napoleon’s interference went much further even now, for it was 
at his wish that the doctrine of no salvation save within the Church, which 
appeared unmistakably in Bossuet’s work, was dropped from the catechism. 
Episcopal dissatisfaction, not daring to attack the objectionable seventh lesson, 
vented itselfm opposition to this point. Even here the need of a privileged spokes- 
man was felt. Such a one was found in the Emperor’s uncle, Cardinal Fesch, 
who did indeed succeed in obtaining redress in this matter. For the Emperor’s 
enlightenment, which had revolted against this intolerance, was not quite so 
firmly attached to principle but that it could not wink upon occasion at a 
deviation, if by so doing he might obtain the damnation of those who denied 
his own omnipotence. The catechism appeared with the seventh lesson intact, 
and no one ventured a word of disapproval. Far from it - most of the bishops 
greeted the work with a great show of gratitude and joy. Rome kept silent. 


It is this submissiveness which presents so alarming a spectacle. Before talking 
of the blessings of the Concordat of 1 801 - this is one of d’Haussonville's theses 
- one should have a clear picture of the enslavement to which the French bishops 
were brought under that regime. From Thiers no such picture is to be got. He 
keeps extolling the peace-loving qualities of the bishops, and thirties it perfectly 
natural that they were inclined to be pliant in order to keep the Church’s bene- 
factor, that irascible potentate, in a good humour. 

Meanwhile Naopleon knew perfectly well, as always, what he was about. 
Later he wrote in his Memoires that he had intended to adapt religion to his policy 
without actually interfering in it, and entirely by exerting temporal infl uence. 
As d’Haussonville rightly remarks, 2 he was under an illusion in believing that 
this involved no interference with religion. Its close association with him was a 
real danger to the Church. He was after all not a Catholic, and made no bones 
about it. He had no desire to detract from the dignity of the Church: he gave 
i. n, 2 89. 2. n, 213. 


no encouragement to scoffers. On the contrary, at Ins court bishops had prece- 
dence over generals, and cardinals over marshals. But Napoleon negotiated with 
the Church as he negotiated with other allies : the lion’s share of the profit derived 
from the association was to be for him. The form in winch he demanded his share 
from the priests was that they should exercise their influence on the faithful in- 
variably in the direction of blind submission to him and to the demands of his 

Napoleon, who never contented himself with general directives, and who 
with an unbelievably concentrated personal attention concerned himself with 
the smallest details of his administration, was not satisfied with the spontaneous 
demonstrations which the bishops hastened to give him. They frequently re- 
ceived special hints, as well as general advice. When he was at war with Russia, 
for example, he indicated in detail how, in sermon or pastoral letter, they should 
arouse the zeal of the faithful by drawing their attention to the schismatic nature 
of the Greek confession. Another time, they were to remind their hearers of the 
Protestantism of the English. A bishop in the Vendee, where the chouans might 
now be quiet but where there was always a possibility of a revival of royalist 
agitation in conjunction with England, would do well, Napoleon -wrote to 
Portalis, to emphasize in his pastoral letter the persecutions suffered by the 
Catholics in Ireland. The Minister was urged to write £ un bel article* in the 
Moniteur which would serve as an example. A careful eye was kept on all ser- 
mons, and a thoughtless word might result in a term of imprisonment without 
trial for the priest. Napoleon hit on the idea, which he passed on to Portalis, 
that the disposition of the higher ranks, including deacons, might be controlled 
by demanding from them a degree in the Imperial University, that powerful 
monopolistic organization. The University would have to refuse the degree in 
the case of candidates known to cherish ultramontane or other notions dan- 
gerous to the Government. When he became aware, in 1806, of the existence 
of various clerical papers, he ordered at once that they should be amalgamated 
into one journal, entitled Le Journal des Cures. At the slightest sign of deviation 
from Gallican ideas in the paper, Napoleon urged his Munster of Cults to take 

In addition there must be incense for himself. This was achieved, for instance, 
by the cult of St Napoleon, of whom nobody had heard until the Emperor 
achieved greatness. Now chapels and fraternities were set up, although it was 
difficult to find out anything in Rome about the saint. De Broglie, the bishop 
of Ghent, relates how Real, the Minister of Police, once told him that he should 
give more praise to the Emperor in his pastoral letters. De Broglie, who for his 
sermon on the birth of the King of Rome had used as his model Bossuet’s 
sermon on the occasion of the birth of a grandson to Louis XIV, thought his 



course must be safe under that flag. But what was good enough for the Roi 
Soleil would not do for the second Charlemagne, neither in the case of the lesson 
on the fourth commandment nor in tills instance. ‘Please give me the yardstick/ 
said de Broglie. 1 

"When Thiers comes to treat of the abduction of Pius in 1809 and of the high- 
handed way in which the Council was managed in 1811, he is hardly less dis- 
approving, particularly of the latter case, than d’Haussonville. He even has an 
impressive passage 2 concerning the delusion which had attacked Napoleon 
that all problems, including spiritual and moral problems, were included in the one 
which preoccupied him in 1811, that of the war with Russia. If he could defeat 
Russia, the only country which, if it did not actually oppose him, was inclined to 
cross him in some of his wishes, he would also have overthrown all the various 
open or hidden oppositions still rampant in Europe. Of what account then was this 
poor priestly prisoner, who ventured to dispute Rome with him? Of none, or 
hardly any; and the Church would recognize the might of Caesar, as she had so 
often done. 

And yet here too Thiers judges events and lays his emphasis very differently 
from d’Haussonville. He is shocked by the methods used, he disapproves of the 
plan to deprive the Pope of his last weapon, by putting a term to canonical 
institution, and to make him the obedient servant of his prince, albeit in the lap 
of luxury, on French soil. All this he regards as the overthrow of that ‘beautiful 
edifice’, that precious balance, which is his idea of Gallicanism. But when it 
comes to the point, his sympathies are almost automatically with the Emperor. 
Those ecclesiastics who let themselves be used as go-betweens and who tried to 
force the aged Pope to make concessions by threatening him with the wrath of 
the Emperor, were men after his heart. They are described as being among ‘the 
most venerable, the most learned, the most conversant with the traditions of 
the French Church’ and also ‘those best shaped for the handling of business’, 
since ‘they joined to a profound knowledge of ecclesiastical affairs a first-rate 
intelligence, extreme tact, the art of dealing with men, in short, a remarkable 
political sense of the kind that was growing rarer every day among the leaders 
of the Church’. 3 The opposition party, which drags the Council into resistance, 
he calls ‘imprudent, passionate, wild, unenlightened, fanatical’.* Tie bishop 

1. 11, 239. From a letter of de Broglie dated n September 1810; d’Haussonville does 
not state where the letter is to be found. 

2 . iv, 47b (Quoted by d’Haussonville, v, 64). 

3. iv, 31a. 

4. Prince Napoleon used the last word (see p. 148) in the same way; it was an expression 
in the party jargon of the anti-clericals. 


whose annoyance at the way in which the Emperor meddled with the catechism 
I referred to above was naturally one of these frenzied and backward priests. 
The rejection of the institution decree by the Council, the first warning to 
Napoleon that his writ did not run everywhere, gives Timers an opportunity 
to write: ‘Those crazy spirits, who were only longing for confusion, might 
congratulate themselves / 1 

Thiers, however, told only half of the ecclesiastical section of his story. As 
d’Haussonville remarks in his introduction, with the necessary respect for the 
doyen of Napoleonic historiography: ‘He knew practically everything, but it 
did not suit him [in the structure of his work] to tell everything.’ 

There are no blacker pages in the history of Napoleonic despotism than those 
devoted to his ‘negotiations’ with the Pope, in which the Council was forced 
to provide him with an additional weapon. Thiers’s much-praised bishops made 
themselves accessories to the almost intolerable moral pressure brought to bear 
on their chief. They did so out of fear of the Emperor. In the interests of the 
Church, they put it themselves; but if so, they took a petty, mundane, and 
short-sighted view of these interests. 

One must picture to oneself Pius, whose very over-conscientiousness often 
enough made him a painfully irresolute old gentleman, gentle, none too strong, 
cut off completely from the outside world since the interception of his letters 
to Paris and Florence. He had been deprived of books and papers and even, 
by express instructions from Napoleon, of the Fisherman signet ring. His 
servants, including his personal physician, were bribed. The prefect of Monte- 
notte, Chabrol, supervised everything and gave to the prisoner such information 
as the Emperor wished him to have. 

When Napoleon instructed Chabrol to express to Pius his sorrow for the 
Church which had such a master, a man who did not know what was due to 
the temporal sovereign, and to add that the good work wotdd go on without 
him, one is shocked at the impudence. Yet utterances of that kind were nothing 
new with Napoleon. He always knew much better than the Pope and was ready 
at all times to air his theology. Once, for example, when he was visiting Belgium, 
he had told a number of Brabant priests that he was prepared to protect the 
religion of St Louis, of St Bernard, of Bossuet, of the Gallican Church with all 
his might, but not that of Gregory VII, of Boniface VIII, of Julius H, who 
he was convinced were burning in hell because of all the dissension to which 
their extravagant claims had given rise. ‘The Popes have committed too many 
follies to allow us to believe in their infallibility .’ 3 

1. iv, 45a. 

2. D’Haussonville, hi, 363. Many such utterances of Napoleon’s exist, he was free 
with the names of popes and saints. 


It became worse, however, when Chabrol was ordered, to assure the Pope 
that ‘all canons and theologians of France and Italy are indignant at his letters 
to the chapters, and that he is the cause of the arrest of* a large number of Floren- 
tine and Parisian priests, all mentioned by name, and of a cardinal, ‘that he brings 
misfortune to everyone with whom he corresponds ’. 1 The impudence might 
be called irresponsible, but the He - for the statement about widespread eccle- 
siastical indignation was nothing else - had something devilish about it. 

But that was the game in which the three bishops came to take their allotted 
part. When one reads in d’Haussonville the daily reports of Chabrol to the 
Minister of Cults about the way in which the Pope was being besieged; how 
tired he was; how he suffered from insomnia; how the forsaken old man was 
plied with sophisms and misleading suggestions, as though the whole Church 
was accusing him of offering obstruction merely for fear of losing his temporal 
power; how the doctor had his part to play - when one reads of Pius’s collapse 
after the ambassadors had gone, of his despair at the thought that he had conceded 
too much - it becomes difficult to feel any admiration for the ecclesiastics who 
might have tom through the web of intrigue but who failed to do it. 

After the Council, pressure was again brought to bear on the Pope, with the 
help of the decree extorted from it. This time, in addition to Napoleon’s tame 
bishops, several of the ‘red* cardinals were let loose on him. The old man had 
to make up his mind without knowing anything of the real state of affairs in 
the outside world. There was a complete conspiracy of silence concerning all 
that had happened in the Council. Before being sent to Savona, the cardinals, 
whom Pius regarded as his natural councillors, had actually been made to bind 
themselves in writing to the views officially favoured. They had promised to 
advocate these with the utmost vigour to the Pope . 2 It is no wonder that Pius 
gave way in the end. 

"When Napoleon was still not content with his agreement, and the Pope on 
his side set himself firmly against further concessions, the Emperor arranged that 
Chabrol should read him a letter 3 not directly addressed to him, though the Pope 
had just written one to the Emperor. The letter began with a declaration in 
Napoleon’s most domineering style that direct correspondence between crowned 
heads was seemly only for the exchange of compliments. Thus the letter was 
addressed to his Minister of Cults, and was supposed to be intended for the 
negotiators, who had in fact just left Savona. In it he first refused the Pope’s 
request to be allowed to communicate freely with the faithful. The Pope, he 
said, had forfeited this freedom by his act of excommunication. He seemed to 

1. iv, 481. It should be noted that a letter like the one quoted was not included in the 
official Correspondance de Napoleon Ier. It is also printed in Lecestre, Lettres inedites , 11, 107. 

2. D’Haussonville, v, 8. 3. D’Haussonville, pp. 127 ff. 



want to forget that now, but Napoleon did not: ‘Is it for the sake of cursing 
sovereigns that Jesus had himself nailed to the Cross? Is this the principle of the 
Supreme Redeemer?’ Next, he had forfeited it by inciting the chapters. 

Has he since tried, out of love for truth, for religion, for humanity, to persuade the 
thousands of kmdly priests who allow themselves to be excited by the idea of their 
allegiance to him, to give their sovereign what is his due? ... He must have no 
hopes of any intercourse with the ‘black’ cardmals. In the meantime, there is no 
interruption in affairs. In the absence of bishops, the dioceses are administered by 
capitular vicars. He [the Pope] had counted on trouble. But he was mistaken. Public 
opinion today is too enlightened. For this criminal speculation, however, frustrated 
by men and condemned by his divine master, the Pope will one day have to 
account. His Majesty pities the Pope’s ignorance. He is sorry to see a pontiff who 
might play so great and noble a part sinking to be the misfortune of the Church. 
All the advantages possessed by the papacy he might have retained, but, egged 
on by his prejudices, he preferred breaking with me, in spite of what the doctrine 
of the Church enjoins. 

The negotiators - they were, as we know, actually on their way back - were then 
instructed to leave Savona if they did not obtain complete submission within 
three days. And the document proceeds: 

Simplicity, sincere and faithful hope in His Majesty’s generosity, is the only course 
remaining to the Pope. h.m. has a better knowledge of all these matters than His 
Holiness, much too good a knowledge ever to allow himself to be pushed off the 
course he has laid for himself. . . Seeing the Pope in this false situation, h.m. looks 
forward with equanimity to his rejecting the decree and covering himself with the 
dishonour attached to ignorance. If he does not feel himself sufficiently justified, not 
sufficiently enlightened by the Holy Ghost and the hundred bishops [that is, by the 
hundred, out of the hundred and twenty, for whom the pressure applied in the 
office of the Minister of Religious Cults had been too much] then why does he not 
acknowledge that he is unable to distinguish what belongs to the dogma and the 
essence of religion from what is merely secular and subject to change, and why 
does he not abdicate? That distinction is simple enough for the greenest seminarist 
to understand. If the Pope cannot grasp it, why does he not vacate the papal see, 
for somebody with a stronger head and a firmer grasp of principle, who might at 
last repair the untold damage done by him in Germany and in all the countries of 

This churlish piece is nothing out of the way among Napoleon’s writings, 
but as an example of unbridled exercise of power against the weak it is in the 
running for a place of honour. Pius endured the recital patiently, hut weak though 
he might be he rejected decisively the suggestion that he might abdicate, and the 
dictator was left with his insoluble problem. 




There is nothing of all this in Thiers’s account. If only for this reason, the affair 
of the Concordat of Fontainebleau a year later is shown by him in quite another 
light. It is only when we know what pressure was put upon Pius at Savona that 
we appreciate the shamelessness of the embrace with which Napoleon greeted 
his victim on the occasion of their so-called unexpected encounter. Only then 
can we imagine what fresh moral pressure must have been brought to bear on 
that impressionable old man, still surrounded only with councillors picked by 
his jailer, by an Emperor whose heart, in his decline of fortune, was set on com- 
promise. It was a pressure all the more painful for the fact that this time he did 
not scorn the weapons of amiability, and even of concessions on subordinate 
matters. It is therefore not surprising that the Emperor obtained the assent he 
so greatly desired, and without waiting for a definite treaty triumphantly auth- 
orized the bishops to order a Te Deurn. But at the same time one can readily 
believe that the Pope did not put his signature without grave doubts, and that 
when, some days later, the * black’ cardinals were at last allowed to see him, his 
conscience was already troubled. 1 

Thiers believed - and tins was of course what Napoleon tried to make the 
world accept - that the ‘black’ cardinals were the mischief-makers who changed 
Pius’s mind for him; the argument they were supposed to have used was that 
of the approaching downfall of the autocrat, the possibility of which had not 
even occurred to Pius, in his innocence and isolation from the world. Such ex- 
planations are not strange coming from a writer who appears to regard the new 
Concordat as reasonableness itself, though that he should take that view is indeed 
odd, when at the beginning of his account of the negotiations concerning the 
right of institution he had expressly described this as indispensable to counter- 
balance the temporal right of nomination. 3 

It is only as one realizes the way in which the Concordat of 1801 was misused 
that it is possible to understand how a harsher edition of it was bound to give rise 
in the Pope’s mind to reflections very different from those relating to temporal 
power in the States of the Church or to the fortunes of war. Indeed, every lover 
of liberty will be disturbed at the thought that this unscrupulous government 
would have removed the Pope’s only remaining means of defence by a new 

1. On both, points d’Haussonville quotes the memoirs of only one of the ‘black’ 
cardinals, Pacca, indomitable among the indomitable. The evidence is perhaps not com- 
pletely satisfactory, and Thiers has apparently rejected it, but now that the previous 
history is known from sources additional to his work, it has internal probability. 

2 iv, 32 The treatment of the Concordat of Fontainebleau, iv, 412 ff., seems to me 
utterly irreconcilable with this earlier passage. 



settlement, and would have established him in its own territory as a kind of high 
ecclesiastical official. Did Thiers not see this? In theory he recognized it, but as 
I have shown, he had not given the essential facts in the earlier volumes of his 

historical background of the theories of church and 


We must, however, carry a little further our interpretation of his attitude of mind. 
To understand it, and to do justice both to him and to Napoleon, it is necessary 
- if we are to observe the conditions under which I said that the historian uses 
historical perspective - to keep before us the values and ideas which both saw 
still prevailing in their own time. Nothing can ever excuse the broken promises, 
the pride degenerated into pedantry, the use of moral violence, which is worse 
than physical coercion; but the spirit of Napoleon’s clerical policy will then 
become more intelligible. And at the same time, harking back to Quinet, we 
shall come to the conclusion, which I indicated when I discussed his Revolution , 
that in this connexion Byzantium and Constantine provide no short cut to an 

Thiers was a liberal with a strong eighteenth-century background, a man of 
the Enlightenment with outward respect but little real feeling for religion, 
penetrated with fear and at the same time scorn for ‘rule of priests’ and ‘super- 
stition’. *A free Church in a free State* was a conception only beginning to 
attract attention. The old tradition, a very old tradition, but one which was in 
full flower during the second half of the eighteenth century, and of which 
Thiers like many thousands after him had not yet freed himself, pointed to the 
placing of the secular power above that of the Church as the only means of 
defence. In Protestant no less than in Catholic countries the leading intelligentsia 
of Europe had long familiarized themselves with the exaltation of the claims 
of the State as a means of defence against ecclesiastical ambitions, which it was 
feared might endanger public order by their influence over the masses. Grotius 
and Oldembarnevelt, Hobbes and Spinoza have their place in this current of 

In France the tradition had acquired a strong national colour; it appeared as 
one of the pillars on which rested the unitary State. Bossuet, who had formulated 
the famous four Gallican theses within the Church itself - though the Assembly 
of the French clergy in 1682 did not actually possess much more freedom 
than the Council of 1811 - was not regarded as the instrument of Louis 
XIV’s despotism but as the defender of national rights against sinister jesuitical 
Rome. Thiers swore by this Gal bran tradition. We have seen that he sometimes 



tried to allow the claims of the Church a fair place in that compromise; but for 
the most part he used the slogan to further the triumph of the State, and even of 
the State as personified by Napoleon, though he sometimes disliked the latter’s 
extremism. Already in the eighteenth century the French philosophes had 
taken possession of these ideas and sealed the ascendancy of them in the spirit 
of katisme. The enlightened despots took them as directives for their policy 
with respect to the Church. Just as the Gallican tradition had gained a footing in 
the French Church itself, so did a considerable part of the German episcopate 
now follow the teaching of Febronius. The Constitution civile du clerge (1790) 
was extreme in a typically revolutionary manner, but its origins were in the 
current tradition. 

Thus Napoleon also, though at first he reacted against revolutionary trends. 
In any case it should not be thought that his harsh driving of the French clergy, 
or even his brutal treatment of the Pope, caused much of a sensation in that part 
of Catholic Europe which had remained outside the Revolution. Austrian 
diplomacy was less upset by the annexation of the Papal States than by the ex- 
communication which was Pius’s answer. Indeed, ‘upset* is too strong a word 
in either case. The Austrians shrugged their shoulders over the excommunica- 
tion, and laughed. Yet memories of Pope Gregory VII caused a slight shiver, 
and even the suggestion of an attack on secular sovereignty was looked upon as 
a bad example. In his prison at Savona, the unfortunate Pius received the visit 
of the former Austrian ambassador to his court; Mettemich had just arranged 
the marriage of his master’s daughter with Napoleon, in itself a proof of how 
little the Catholic court of Vienna troubled about the Pope - particularly when 
one remembers that the Habsburg had not allowed himself to be deterred from 
the match by the irregularity involved in the annulment of the previous marriage 
without the Pope’s consent. The smoothly official report which the Austrian 
diplomat gave of what was nevertheless rather a pathetic encounter shows how 
right Napoleon had been in thinking he could safely let him visit the prisoner. 

On this point there was much agreement between the men of the world. 
Everywhere the Church was looked upon as something at once old-fashioned 
and dangerous. Modem institutions - those of Joseph II in Austria as well as 
those of the Revolution in France - had to be protected against it. States which 
had adopted civil marriage and the subjection of the whole of society to civil 
law inevitably wished also to break clerical control of education. To recall the 
ambition of medieval popes in times so different was foolish, but such remin- 
iscences helped to justify the national centralized state, run by bureaucrats who 
allowed little scope to pastors or priests and kept a careful eye on the relations 
of the Catholic clergy with their chief outside the country. This tendency con- 
tinued with unabated vigour into the nineteenth century. Mettemich, men- 



tioned above, was powerful in Austria till 1848. Dutch William I was a disciple. 
In France, Galilean principles survived the Restoration. 

As I have said, it is worth while recalling all this, because one has to see Napo- 
leon’s actions against the Church within the framework of his day, m order to 
judge of them fairly. But it is just as necessary to explain Thiers’s attitude. I 
believe it is not going too far to say that the most important factor was not 
Thiers’s admiration for Napoleon so much as his sense of spiritual kinship. It 
seems at first sight strange that the Napoleonic legend was so successful among 
just those radical sections of the French people which drew their inspiration from 
the Revolution. Anti-clericalism - the restorer of altars had long before the end 
revealed himself as the tamer of priests - anti-clericalism is a connectmg link 
of prime importance. 1 

d’haussonville’s ideas in the catholic world 
D’Haussonville’s book is imbued with respect for spiritual freedom. He did not 
feel that the Restoration had completely restored this freedom. For most of the ' 
clergy, in spite of their former enthusiasm, in spite of the papal consecration and 
of the lessons in the catechism glorifying the Bourbons, continued to believe 
- and until the reaction started by Lamemiais they believed it, one would almost 
say, as a matter of course, innocently - that a close association with the State 
was healthy for religion. D’Haussonville’s work made a valuable contribution 
to the knowledge of Napoleonic despotism, which by no means all the writers 
who succeeded him have digested, however. 

His treatment could find no favour in leading Catholic circles in France, or 
indeed in Rome, where under Pius IX a sharp turn was taken against liberalism, 
and where even before him Lamennais had found no mercy. There the attack 
on the Concordat met with no approval, as was demonstrated with the appear- 
ance of a history of the Concordat by Father Theiner (a German, though he 
wrote in French), archivist of the Vatican, which amounts to a glorification 
not only of the famous agreement but of Napoleon also. A generation later 
another history of the Concordat was written, this time by a Frenchman, 
Cardmal Mathieu, also pro-Concordat. At that moment, at the beginning of 
the twentieth century, attacks were being made on the Concordat by those 
who wished to ‘laicize* the State. To defend it seemed a Catholic duty. After 
the separation of Church and State in 1906, however, the Church seemed to 
prosper well enough in the secularized state; there was even a Catholic revival. 

1. That men in England and America rejoiced at the fall of Pius, and prophesied the 
ruin of the Roman Church as a result, is not without connexion with such ideas, but 
naturally has a specifically Protestant and anti-papist inspiration. 



Iii these circumstances there is greater inclination in Catholic circles to enter- 
tain cTHaussonvillc’s view . 1 

I. A deft characterization of Bonaparte’s attitude at the negotiations of 1S01 is to be 
found in J Cretineau-Joly, Bonaparte, le Concordat de 1S01 et le cardinal Cotisalvi 
(1869), s6: 

* Bonaparte a 1 ’ instinct des belles choses; mais, enfant gate de la fortune et de la victoire, 
il veut, il deciete, il ordonne que ces belles choses s’miprovisent a son heure et a son temps. 
31 n’y a pas de delais, pas d’atermoiements, pas de transactions, pas de reflexions possibles 
avee lui II a juge opportun et ndeessaire de rompre avec l’atheisme legal et de renouer la 
chaine des temps. Il y procede comme a coups de canon; il tente d’enlever le Concordat 
a la baionette.’ 

This agrees with the account of d’Haussonville. The writer, a fervent Catholic, proud 
of the approbation expressed at his work by Pius IX, also considers the Concordat a 
blessing for religion. This does not prevent him from polemicizing furiously with Father 

One point on which Cretineau-Joly disagrees with d’Haussonville is on the latter’s 
contention that Bonaparte was personally not a Catholic. It seems to me that it is impos- 
sible to maintain the thesis that Bonaparte was a sincere Catholic. It can be said that his 
conviction of the social and political importance of religion - religion in general, and as 
far as France was concerned the Catholic religion - was not necessarily pure self-interest 
or * cynicism’ but was derived from a sincere religious feeling. That is a typical eighteenth- 
century sentiment, such as was expressed by Rousseau’s vicaire Savoyard, and not everyone, 
naturally, condemns it so severely as Quinet. Seep. 365 below, for what Hanotaux wrote 
concerning Napoleon’s strong religious awareness. 

5 Jules Michelet 

The two last works, those of Lanfrey and of d’Haussonville, have this much 
in common, that their authors could not shake off the influence of Thiers. They 
correct, they amplify him, but he still dominates the territory in which they 

This is not so in the case of two writers who took issue with the Napoleon 
problem in the period that opened with the downfall of Napoleon III, but whose 
conception had been formed (as was that of every one of those I have so far 
discussed in this section) under the impact of the nephew’s disenchanting caesar- 
ism: Michelet and Tame. 

I shall deal very briefly with Michelet. Having interrupted his many-volume 
history of France in 1843 at the close of the Middle Ages in order to deal first 
with the Revolution, he had filled the gap (and disposed of the seventeenth- 
century and eighteenth-century kings with ferocious contumely) in the early 
sixties. Now, in his old age, in 1872 and 1873, 1 he wrote three more volumes, 
the first dealing with the Directorate and the rise of Bonaparte, the second and 
third with the period of the First Consul and Emperor, from Brumaire to 

In the preface to the first volume he had said that he was going to disburden 
himself of the severe opinion he had all his life held about Napoleon, while 
others ‘looked without seeing’. Now, certainly, Napoleon is to him the mere 
self-seeking adventurer, the betrayer of the Revolution and of the peoples. 
But twenty-five years ago he had in fact shared the view then so commonly held 
by the devotees of the Revolution tradition that Napoleon had been its cham- 
pion in Europe. In his book on the Revolution (in 1851) he had rebuked the 
Belgians for jibbing at the demands made upon them by the French conqueror. 
‘ When France undertook, for the Belgians and for the world, the war which cost 
her from 1792 to 1815 ten millions of her children, it did not, in the face of that 
terrible effusion of French blood, become them very well to grumble about a 
little Belgian money.’ From 1792 to 1815 ! Napoleon’s wars, too, were waged 
on behalf of Belgium and of the world! 

Now, on the contrary, he sees the youthful Bonaparte already in his Italian 
campaigns ‘waging war against the peoples’. ‘ Leglorieux traitrede Campo For mio 7 

1. Htstoire du XIX siecle ; vols. 11 and hi were published posthumously in 1875. 



debased himself to acting as ‘the devoted minister of Austria*. The annexation 
of Genoa to France and the handing over of Venice to Austria were two ‘ crimes 
Bonaparte was a ‘corrupted soul’. 

Michelet is still the fervent believer in the Revolution as the bearer of a message 
of liberation for mankind ; France to his mind is still the chosen country deservmg 
eternal admiration and gratitude, and the Britain of Pitt, on the contrary, the 
home of base materialism and cunning. But after the Terror, the magnanimous 
French nation had gone through a spell of moral lassitude and indifference, and 
of this the unprincipled Bonapartes (he is thinking of Napoleon and Lucien) 
availed themselves ‘to dig the abyss of Brumaire, which contained for Europe 
and for us fifteen years of atrocious warfare and the death of three millions of 
men’. He is still convinced that ‘the wars of the Revolution were far from ex- 
cluding the true human fraternity’, but he now admits that their sequence under 
Napoleon led to a disastrous divorce between the conception of France and that 
of Europe (otherwise to him synonymous). When the catastrophe is there, and 
Alexander of Russia is approaching Pans with the victorious allies, Michelet can 
even bring himself to quote with approval the ‘ mot beau et vrai* pronounced 
by the Tsar on that occasion: ‘I come to reconcile France with Europe.’ 

Meanwhile the whole of Napoleon’s career has been reviewed in an impas- 
sioned and exclamatory style, and the work is a sustained denunciation rather 
than a history. Nothing is left to Napoleon. The vulgarity of his character is 
illustrated by anecdotes which sometimes seem to the writer so revolting that 
he can hardly bring himself to relate them. His military successes he represents 
as due to luck as often as to ability. He insists on the cowardice displayed by the 
spurious great man on the 18th Brumaire, again in the face of hostile crowds 
on liis journey to Elba after the first abdication, and finally at the battle of Water- 
loo and in the hectic days that followed upon the defeat. A cowardice accompanied 
by an insane egotism. Napoleon did not think of the safety of Paris or of France, 
only of securing the succession to his son and of his possessions. When in the 
heated discussions in Pans Lucien suggests that the baby King of Rome should 
be proclaimed, La Fayette, revolted, uttered ‘a terrible word, a veritable sen- 
tence by which that disastrous family will for ever remain marked: “What 
have you made of France?’” 

The British - even to them Michelet is now almost reconciled - committed 
one grievous mistake. By shutting him up at St Helena, they provided him with 
‘a towering stage, from where the scoundrel could surprise the pity of the public 
and by dint of lies prepare a sanguinary repetition of all the calamities of the 


6 Hippolyte Taine 

the writer 

Taine’s book on Napoleon is a very different proposition from Michelet’s 
diatribe. Michelet was miles apart from Thiers, not because he did not accept 
the Revolution, but because in his view it belonged to ‘the people’, instead of as 
with Thiers to ‘the bourgeoisie*. Taine on the contrary definitely breaks with 
the hberal school of the forties, because he rejects the very principle of the 

But, moreover, his method is so different that the reader forgets his immediate 
predecessors. And yet there is a relationship with all those who have come under 
review in tills section. Like them (if we except Michelet, who is sui generis), he 
was a spiritual heir, if a bitterly disillusioned one, of Mme de Stael. Like them, 
he had his place in the reaction against die Napoleonic legend. Indeed, although 
he did not indulge in the abuse with which Michelet startled his readers, in him 
this reaction culminated. 

The first volume of the two devoted to Napoleon in Taine’s great work Les 
Origines de la France contemporaine appeared in 1890. It contained the brilliant 
‘portrait’, as an introduction to a discussion of the institutions which Napoleon 
gave to France. I shall in the first instance confine my attentions to this portrait. 

Taine is in a different category from writers such as Thiers, d’Haussonville, or 
Lanfrey . Nor can Quinet compare with him. The hundred and forty pages of the 
chapter on Napoleon belong to literature. No one has a greater capacity for 
making his readers see a character. Taine’s Napoleon, a creature devoid of all 
humanity, an evil demon let loose on France and Europe, is alive, is alive with a 
gripping, an overwhelming intensity. This does not mean that Taine’s Napoleon 
must be true to hfe. Imagination plays too important a role in the writing of 
history, and what is imagination but the projection of the author’s personahty? 
It is to a supreme degree the Napoleon of Tame, and Taine, a creative imagination 
without a peer, was by no means the calm objective observer he declared - and 
believed - himself to be. 1 

Deeply shocked as he was by the defeat of 1870, and no less by the Commune 
which followed, he wanted to show his compatriots how the conditions and state 

1. See the Introduction to the Origines. 



of mind arose from which had sprung those disasters and the other ills that visited 
France. It was for tills reason that, though Ills fame hitherto rested on books of 
philosophy and literary history, he now undertook the purely historical work of 
Les Otigines. The ancien regime could not have been painted in darker colours 
than it was in his first volume. But the Revolution aroused even greater abhor- 
rence. He hated the triumph of frivolous theorizing, the blindness to historical 
growth and to indispensable order, the letting loose of the animal in man. 
He might have gone on to celebrate Bonaparte as the man who scorned the 
ideologists and restored order. But when his friends somewhat reproachfully 
commiserated with him on the compromising approval accorded to him by 
conservatives of every colour for Ills withering attacks on the Jacobins, Taine 
would answer with a smile: ‘Je les attends a Napoleon.’ 1 And indeed it was with 
hate that he painted the portrait. 

Tame’s mind was so constructed that everything and everybody in history was 
seen by him subjected to a few precisely-defined guiding ideas. It is curious that 
this tendency has much in common with that passion for general ideas which he 
condemned in his eighteenth-century Frenchmen, and from which, as he was 
never tired of declaring, derived their blindness to realities. Not less curious is the 
way in which, in spite of this cramping and sometimes highly artificial structure 
into which he forces his subject, he contrives an astonishingly close contact with 
life. Yet his is in no sense a historical method. Taine has no understanding of 
development. He has no power to trace the origins and connexions of events and 
to extract from them their meaning. He tries to distil the quintessence of a whole 
period, a career which embraced so many lands, wars, revolutions, reformations. 
It is the weakness of his Ancien Regime that he neglected the differences between 
the period of Louis XV and that of Louis XVI, using his notes concerning the 
one or the other indiscriminately, without regard to the circumstances, to make a 
composite picture winch for that very reason cannot have existed in reality. His 
Revolution is, in my judgement, a complete failure as a history, because he is only 
interested in describing feelings and states of mind, and never places the actions, 
incidents, and utterances from which he deduced these in their natural relation to 
the wider course of events. And it must be admitted that his Napoleon suffers from 
the same defect. 


Napoleon is not portrayed as the course of an amazing life, as contact with 
mighty events made him, but as he was. Taine knows only one Napoleon. He 
sees the Emperor implicit in the Corsican boy or in the poor lieutenant 
I. Sorel, Nouveaux essais d’histoire et de critique , 1898, n. 138. 



of the royal army. It is therefore not the Napoleon of any one stage, but the 
quintessence of Napoleon which he gives us. To what central ideas is this 
portrait related? 

Napoleon, says Taine, is not a Frenchmen of bis time. He is a foreigner, an 
Italian. Here we are reminded of Quinet, but Tame’s Italian is of the Renaissance, 
as it were preserved in isolated Corsica. From this follows his mental attitude 
(T intelligence), his independence of the eighteenth-century French tendency to 
generalization, his complete indifference to all current theories and principles, 
and his unfailing and tireless instinct for facts. I must remark here that this inter- 
pretation seems even more fantastic to me than Quinet’s. Napoleon’s brain was 
brim-full of conventional ideas, among them many that were typical of the 
French of his day. We have already noticed examples of these in his attitude 
towards religion, his respect a la Rousseau for the established religion of any 
country, and his general ‘philosophical 5 and Gallican conception of the correct 
relationship of Church and State. Nevertheless no one has given so telling an 
account as Taine of the insatiable passion for facts of that extraordinary human 
mechanism called Napoleon. 

Next, Taine describes his character. The Italian Renaissance is again called in to 
explain the violence of his passions. And this extraordinary mechanism, this 
emotional violence, are in Taine’s view subject to one ruling trait, egoism. This 
egoism, the tendency to make oneself the centre of things, to recognize no other 
motive than that of one’s own advantage of greatness, was, Taine says, nourished 
by social conditions in Corsica, where no notion of law or of common interest 
served to moderate the struggles of the chiefs and their clans. The confusion in 
France after the upheaval of the Revolution offered just such an arena on a larger 

The complete egoist is a solitary being, irrevocably shut off from his fellow 
men. He is self-insulated against all spontaneous feelings of sympathy, admiration, 
or pity. That is how Taine paints Napoleon. So intense is his egoism that he is 
unable to conceive of any other driving force in other men. This great realist is 
morally blind, and his scorn for men leads him into stupid blunders. High motives 
lead to independence, and without realizing the cause, he is always impatient of 
that effect. He surrounds himself with servants instead of collaborators. If some- 
one inclined to independence compromises himself in his service - like Caulain- 
court, however innocently, in the Enghien affair - he rejoices at the greater hold 
over the man this will give him. Napoleon demands the performance of turpi- 
tudes: Savary and men of that kidney are his ideal. He can see men only as 
instruments. He hounds on his ministers, his generals, his officials, even his 
puppet kings, his brothers, like a slave-driver. His harsh commanding voice 
easily takes on the accents of brutality, even of a refined cruelty. He wounds, he 

R - N.F.A. - E 



humiliates, lie tries to break spirits . 1 The lot of those nearest to him was far from 
enviable. Strict etiquette and a tone of eternal constraint prevailed at the court. 
Everyone trembled before the master, who could not cease, even for one moment, 
to be a master. 

Finally, in a score of pages of irresistible power, Taine links all this up with 
Napoleon’s attitude to the world beyond France. An insatiable thirst for conquest ; 
the fact that compliance and promises never meant anything more than tactics; 
that for him allies were but instruments of policy to be broken when they had 
done their service. 

As long as his reign lasts there will be war ... no barrier is sufficient to fence him in, 
no treaty can bind him. With him peace will never be anything but a truce, he 
will only make use of it to recover himself, and as soon as he thinks himself re- 
covered, he will begin again; he is in essence anti-social . 3 

One cannot live with him. * On that matter, Europe’s min d is made up, definitive, 

France’s interests are not what matter to him. Indeed he takes advantage of her 
trust to drive her to the abyss. In later days at St Helena, Napoleon sentimentalizes 
over ‘that French people lie had loved so much ’. 3 

The truth is that he loves it as a horseman loves his horse; all the grooming and 
smartening up, all the stroking and encouragement, is not for the benefit of the 
horse, but to prepare it as a useful animal for his service, so that it may fulfil his 
puiposes, even to exhaustion, so that he may force it on over ever wider ditches 
and ever higher obstacles - come up, now, one more ditch, another wall . . . But 
after what seemed the last obstacle, there are always new ones to overcome, and in 
any case the horse always and inevitably remains what it always was, that is, a 
mount, and an overburdened one . . . 

For, says Taine, imagine for a moment that this Russian expedition, instead of 
turning into a frightful disaster, had been a triumphant success ; what would the 
outlook for France have been then? At best a French European Empire under- 
mined by European resistance : French residents and commanders at St Petersburg 
and Riga, as at Danzig, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Trieste; 
all fit Frenchmen employed, from Cadiz to Moscow, in maintaining and ad- 
ministering the conquest, in hunting down refractory conscripts; no career left 
save that of policeman or bully, to keep down subjects and to gather in tribute, to 
seize and to burn merchandise. 

1. An example can be found in the correspondence with Louis, previously referred to, 
p. <53 ff. 

2. Origines de la France contemporaine , Regime modeme , 1, 129. 

3. Words from the Emperor’s will. The comparison of the rider and the horse which 
follows is not entirely original; the reader will remember the poem of Barbier; see p. 32. 



But these beautiful prospects came to nothing; in 1812 the Grande Annie lies 
prostrate in the snow. The horse has bungled its jump completely. Fortunately 
it is only a horse ridden to death. ‘His Majesty’s health has never been better.’ 1 
The horseman is unharmed, and all he thinks of is not the death struggle of the 
wretched beast but his own mishap, his damaged reputation as a horseman. 

It is the catcalls, it is the comic effect of a saut pirilleux announced with fanfares by 
so large an orchestra and ending in so pitiable a fall. 

When he reaches Warsaw, he keeps on repeatmg the phrase: ‘There is but one 
step from the sublime to the ridiculous . . .* And the upshot for France? Not only 
the collapse of Napoleon’s empire, which all things considered was not a French 
Empire any more; but the loss as well of the conquests of the Republic, the 
Rhine frontier and Belgium, which had been entrusted to Napoleon in 1 799, ‘ the 
natural frontiers [to which we shall hardly admit France to have so obvious a right, 
although this is a point on which practically all French writers are in agreement] 
those too, Napoleon, with his policy inspired by nothing but egoism, has lost 
for us’, so Taine concludes. 


The portrait of Napoleon is merely an introduction. The work as a whole is 
concerned with an analysis of the institutions for which France has to thank 
Napoleon, though Taine would certainly not have put it in that way; ‘the 
institutions inflicted on France by Napoleon’ would be more in accordance with 
his approach. The general tendency of l le rigime tnoderne\ as Taine sees it, he 
describes in lois arresting and picturesque manner as follows: 

A new France, not the communistic, egalitarian, spartan France fondly imagined 
by Robespierre and Saint-Just, but a practicable and durable France, the France of 
reality, yet levelled, made uniform, fitted together according to logic and after a 
general and simple principle, a centralized and bureaucratic France, which, apart 
from the petty and individualist activities of private life, was to be set in motion 
entirely from above; in short, the France which Richelieu and Louis XIV would 
have wished to bring about, which Mirabeau saw coining already in 1790; there 
you have the creation which the practice and theory of both the monarchy and 
the Revolution had prepared, and for the achievement of which the ultimate 
concourse of events, I mean the alliance of philosophy and of the sword, made 
ready the First Consul’s sovereign hands. 

Nor could he, with his character as we know it, with the quickness, the activity, 
the range, the comprehensiveness, and the style of his intelligence, have willed any 

1. The famous closing sentence of the bulletin in which the disaster was at last an- 


other construction or have been satisfied with a lesser. His itch to administer and to 
manage was too great, Ins capacity for it was too great; his genius swallowed 
everything up. Moreover, for the external task that he took upon himself he 
needed internally not only the undisputed possession of all executive and legislative 
power, but more than that, the annihilation of all moral authority other than his 
own, that is to say, pubhc opinion silenced and every mdividual isolated; and 
consequently the systematic destruction, in advance, of all initiative, be it religious, 
ecclesiastic, educational, charitable, or literary, departmental or municipal, winch 
in the present or in the future might group men against or even by his side. As a 
good general, he covers his rear; m his struggle with Europe he sees to it that, m 
tins France which he drags along with him, the recalcitrant souls or minds shall not 
be able to come together . . . The end of every thread which might draw together 
a number of men for the same objects is in his hands ; he keeps a firm hold on all 
these threads together, guards them jealously, that he may pull them as taut as 
possible. Let no one be bold enough to try and slacken them, above all let no one 
attempt to seize them; they are his, his only, they constitute the public domain, his 

Even so the ruler admits the existence of a carefully defined territory within 
which, for all his power, he does not enter. Taine hastens to add that here too 
Napoleon is only acting from an enlightened sense of self-interest. He was realist 
enough to take the men of his day, the products of a civilized epoch with a long 
tradition of law, as they were. And it was in order to make them the more ready 
to work for his amis that he guaranteed them the free and untrammelled enjoy- 
ment of their own little plot, their property, for that is what is meant. I remark m 
passing that on this point considerations which did not occur to Taine are bound 
to present themselves to the modem reader. In the first place he did not foresee 
that rulers might arise who would violate this frontier too. In the second place 
this self-control, whatever its motives, is regarded by Taine as an undoubted 
boon, so great in his day was the domination still exercised by liberal economy 
over men’s minds. At the present time many observers will inevitably consider 
thL respect for private property a characteristic through which Napoleon ranges 
himself on the bourgeois, or even the reactionary, the anti-social, side of the 

However much one may wish to criticize Taine ’s view, the pages which I have 
quoted form the starting-point of bold and penetrating speculations concerning 
Napoleonic institutions. Their sombre tone may perhaps find more echo among 
our own contemporaries than among the author’s, though doubts had already 
begun to make breaches in nineteenth-century optimism. In any case the shattering 
of individuality and of group, the uprooting of local government, the destruction 
of all initiative and all conviction in political matters - these constitute for Taine 
the distinguishing features. When he compares the work of Napoleon with that of 



Diocletian and Constantine, without suggesting, as does Quinet, that their spirit 
was still working in the Italian blood of the Corsican, it is in order to note that m 
their day, too, human material was smashed to make that classically simple and 
symmetrical structure. I shall not follow him further in these considerations, and 
I shall merely note that he does not deny Napoleon’s work all merit. Order was 
restored, the bureaucratic machine itself became a model of tidiness, regularity, 
and equipoise. The incidence of taxation was regulated most excellently and the 
principle of opportunity for all - la carriere ouverte a tons - had a stimulating effect. 
But the driving force that was continually brought into play was the purely 
personal one of competition, while all direction came from above. 

After having discussed Napoleonic institutions in general, Taine planned to 
show how various departments of life fared under the regime. He was able to 
finish only two chapters, which together make one volume, on the Church and 
on the schools. Remembering d’Haussonville’s book, it will be readily understood 
that Taine found the Church a rewarding subject. I shall confine myself to 
discussing something of what he has to say about the schools under Napoleon. 


What is the aim Napoleon sets himself in his educational policy? He indicates it 
himself: 4 My chief aim is to have a means whereby a lead may be given to political 
and moral conceptions.’ 1 Quite agreeable to his way of thinking, then, is this 
statement of advantages of uniformity as set forth by a minister to the Ccrps 

Education must impart the same knowledge and the same principles to all indivi- 
duals living in the same society, so that they will make as it were one body, informed 
with one and the same understanding and working for the common good on the 
basis of uniformity of views and desires. 

This then was the purpose to be served by the monopoly accorded to the 
Imperial University. This University is in no sense to be regarded as a college; it 
is the organized totality of public education in France. This powerful body 
acquires more and more privileges, so that private education may be crushed out 
of existence. Heavy pressure indeed is needed, for parents do not much care for 
the new imperial lycees. They are too militaristic for their taste, there is a barracks 
atmosphere about them. Parents prefer to send their children to the private 
schools which try to maintain themselves against the tide of State education. This 
is made more and more difficult. Not only does the State make life impossible for 
the private school, but it frequently seizes upon the children too. In 1808 the 

1. In the Council of State, 1806; Taine, Origines , vi, 157. 



Emperor Lad a list drawn up of old and rich families throughout the country 
who must send their sons to St Cyr. In 1813 a similar measure was drawn up on a 
wider scale. This was the institution of the garde d’honnetir, which aroused such 
perturbation in Holland, and the object of which in France also was to force the 
notables to offer up their sons to Moloch. 

To get the type of education at which he aimed, Napoleon wanted to train a 
body of teachers who would be filled from youth onwards with the spirit of 
obedience and sacrifice to the Empire. He thought with a certam envy of the 
Jesuits. Naturally he could not use them, and distrusted them as servants of Rome, 
but his ideal would have been ‘a corporation, not of Jesuits whose sovereign 
resided in Rome, but of Jesuits who had no other ambition than to be useful, no 
other interest than the public interest’. 1 Th elzcole Normale would have to supply 
the need. Napoleon had his ideas concerning the syllabus and the kind of litera- 
ture which should be read. He frowned upon the use of books such as Montes- 
quieu’s Dialogue de Syllaetd’Eu crate, Thomas’ sElogede Marc Aurele, orth 0 Annals 
of Tacitus. Such reading smacked of republicanism and stimulated the readers to 
independent judgement and to criticism. 

Let youth rather read Caesar’s Commentaries . . . Corneille [the supreme example of 
classicism in the drama, and the eulogist of will-power and unhesitating fulfilment 
of duty], Bossuet [the preacher of unity and obedience, to whom Napoleon was 
especially drawn, as we have seen, because of his Galhcan ideas, and his ecclesiastical 
support for Louis X I V’s state ambitions]; these are the masters they need, for they 
navigate with the sails of obedience set m the established order of their period; they 
strengthen it, they adorn it. 

Among the ‘fundamentals of education’ Napoleon included ‘the precepts of 
the Catholic religion’ (see p. 165.) Taine does not omit to point out that in doing so 
he was in no way governed by disinterested conviction. He wanted to obtain 
the sympathy of the clergy, but took good care at the same time that religion did 
not spoil Ills officials, his officers, or even his subjects. As he explained in 1806 in 
the Council of State : ‘ The end to aim at is that the young people should grow up 
neither too devout nor too sceptical; they should be made to fit the state of the 
nation and of society.’ 

Let me remark here that judgement on sayings such as this depends entirely 
on the general outlook of the historian. Thiers too quotes similar utterances of 
Napoleon. On one occasion, for example, during the establishment of schools 
for children of necessitous members of the Legion of Honour, the Emperor 
declared 3 that religious instruction was only of secondary importance for boys, 
though in the case of girls ‘a solid piety’ was the first consideration. 

1. Taine, vi, 170. 2. Thiers, il 



Make of them women who believe and do not argue. The weakness of the female 
intellect, the volatility of their ideas, their appointed lot in society, the necessity of 
promoting in them, together with a constant resignation, a tender and yielding 
chanty, all this makes the yoke of religion indispensable for them. 

Thiers is not in the least shocked by this view of the usefulness o£ religion in 
relation to social needs, and these very one-sidedly estimated at that. At least he 
makes no comment on it. 1 

Taine continues with his description of the schools, and expatiates upon the 
strict discipline and mechanical regulation of life in the lycies. These boarding- 
schools were ‘ ante-rooms to the barracks *, and the militaristic tone which reigned 
there was far from popular. Nevertheless the education given stamped their 
pupils’ minds for life. Systematized competition as an mcentive was taken over 
from the Jesuits. Prize-givings, which were turned into grandiose and theatrical 
performances, went with this. Loyalty to the Emperor, admiration for Ins 
military prowess, ambition to share that glory - such were the virtues that were 
fostered above all others. The presence everywhere of imperial scholars, sons of 
officers and officials, who owed all to the imperial favour and whose future 
fortunes depended on it, did much to secure the dominance of this spirit in the 
schools. The blind submission and enthusiasm of these boys set the tone. But 
everything was arranged to maintain it at that pitch. Reports of victories were 
read aloud and commented upon. Essays dealing with the latest triumph received 
the prizes. 

In this teaching [Taine concludes] literature and science are of secondary impor- 
tance. What matters is the training, an early, methodical, continuous, irresistible 
training which through the concentration of all means - lesson, example, and 
practice - inculcates the principles and permeates the youthful souls for good and 
all with the national doctrine, a kind of social and political catechism, the first article 
of which enjoins fanatical subjection, passionate devotion, and complete surrender 
of self to the Emperor. 

Lanfrey’s book was already almost forgotten. 3 Taine’s work, so much more 
powerful in its brevity - I am thinking now of the portrait of Napoleon, the 
publication of which, in the Revue des Deux Mondes (February-March 1887) 

1. Thiers, who was not shocked by a purely social valuation of religion, also admired 
the rigid organization of education under the University Of all Napoleon’s creations, he 
thought it ‘perhaps the most beautiful’: 11, 132b. 

2. At any rate among the general public, though it has always found interested and 
grateful readers, and still does. 



preceded the main work by a year or two, and which certainly has since found 
twenty readers for one who was willing to wrestle with the institutions, the 
schools, and the churches - this study, which was not merely destructive but 
which within the temple of Napoleon worship unveiled an idol of monstrous 
aspect, caused a tremendous sensation. It was not to be expected that it would 
tempt the faithful to apostasy. The French people had fed their pride too long on 
that wonderful epic, had been too ready to admire their own greatness and energy 
in the conquests and the expansion of revolutionary principles, to allow their 
Napoleon to be taken away fro m them. Thus the horse attaches itself to the most 
exciting rider. 

But indeed it was only too easy to point out exaggerations and weaknesses in 
the portrait. The first who did this, and it must be admitted with much perspica- 
city, was Prince Napoleon, who had ‘edited’ his uncle’s correspondence (see 
p. 71) with so disconcerting a mixture offrankness and clumsiness. I shall discuss 
his book, Napoleon et ses detracteurs , which appeared in 1887, at a later stage; 
here I want to deal only with his criticism of Taine. 

His general characterization of the great writer as a man without style who 
could present us with a string of notes from his card index, like an entomologist 
with a purely microscopic vision who failed to see the broad lines and was blind 
to moral values, is so obviously a caricature bom from indignation - though 
certain traits of the original are indeed recognizable - that we might seriously ask 
ourselves whether this passionate Bonaparte was equipped to give a judgement 
on moral conceptions. But his actual criticism is much to the point. Let us ignore 
a number of errors due to negligence, which he lists, and merely mention in 
passing that a passage in the Revue des Deux Mondes, in which Taine, carried away 
by his comparison of Napoleon with the Italians of the Renaissance, and in 
particular with the Borgias, boldly asserted diat the Corsican had seduced all 
three of his sisters - a story often whispered - is not reprinted in the book. I shall 
confine my remarks to the main charge that Taine was in general too much 
inclined to rely on memoirs, and preferably those of hostile writers, and that he 
failed to subject these sources to a much needed criticism. 

That criticism Prince Napoleon proceeds to give. One after another Metier- 
nich, Bourrienne, Mme de Remusat, 1 ’abbe de Pradt, Miot de Melito, are con- 
sidered. Mettemich’s was a special case. The others had this much in common, 
that they had served Napoleon when he was in power and uttered their destruc- 
tive or hostile criticism only after his fall. The apologist who attempts to discredit 
witnesses for the prosecution on this ground alone - that of inconsistency, in- 
gratitude, and treachery - will not readily receive support from the historian. 
He is more likely to have his way with the general public, which is liable to be 
moved by nationalistic or political passions. In France, any reminder of the 

13 $ 


humiliating circumstances to which the regime which succeeded Napoleon 
owed its existence - the defeat, and the patronage of foreign conquerors — never 
failed to touch a chord. So did any representation of Napoleon symbolizing in 
Ins downfall the fate of the fatherland. Prince Napoleon certainly does not dis- 
dain to use these themes in a demagogic manner, but he also has arguments which 
cannot but impress a cooler critical judgement. I shall deal here only with the 
case of Mme de Remusat. It is undeniable that her memoirs, which were pub- 
lished only in 1880, had strongly coloured Taine’s view of the perso nali ty of 

Mme de Remusat had come as a young married woman to the court of 
Josephine, then still wife of the First Consul. Her husband accepted a post as 
prefet du palais. They were aristocrats, not of the highest rank but authentically 
of the ancien regime, people such as Bonaparte thought he should have about him 
in his rising fortunes. They had been among the first to ‘rally’ to his side, in the 
golden spring of the Consulate, and Mme de Remusat had begun with genuine 
admiration and enthusiasm. The memoirs describe her disillusionment. The book 
is certainly among the most fascinating written about Napoleon by contempor- 
aries. The writer gives the impression of being a serious-minded, highly-cultured 
woman. She had an eye for the colourful event, and could tell an amusing 
incident with the best, but what sets her apart from most writers of memoirs is 
her judgement, and the independence with which she seems to have maintained 
her own standards against Napoleon. Her attitude is not purely individualistic, 
and it is not simply a question of an over-sensitive ego, as in the case of Chateau- 
briand. She represents a definite tendency, she is spiritually akin to Mme de 
Stael. In this connexion it is significant that her son, and later also her grandson, 
under the Restoration and the Second Empire, became important figures in 
French liberalism, which was then intellectually rather than politically in- 

The picture she gives of Napoleon tallies to an extraordinary degree with that 
of Mme de Stael. That he was completely heartless, without any spontaneous 
human feeling, without any generosity, nothing but self-love, and accomphshing 
all his works in a whirl of egoism or of crafty calculation - all this one can read in 
Mme de Remusat, and of course one is reminded of Taine’s portrait also. So 
conscious was Napoleon of these qualities in himself that he measured all others 
by the same standard, thus committing the gravest psychological errors. He was 
quite unable to believe in disinterested charitable actions. If he was forced to 
admit their existence, he only despised the doer, doubly despised him, for he 
started with a low opinion of mankind in general, and in particular of the French, 
among whom he still felt himself a stranger, though he tried to conceal it. Mme 
de Remusat believed that she had seen him descend to these depths by slow 



degrees, or rather the Enghien crime had accelerated the process, making him 
lose all respect for moral values and all sense of moderation. She and her husband, 
she tells us, belonged to the secret opposition which had Talleyrand for its 
centre and longed for the return of the Bourbons and freedom. 

Prince Napoleon’s most telling charge against the reliability of Mme de 
Remusat is that her later memoirs contradict her letters of the time. What 
admiration and enthusiasm she was still expressing for Napoleon and his victories, 
Napoleon and his gracious ways - at a time when according to the memoirs she 
already saw him as the conqueror run mad, as the heartless robot. 

When exactly were these memoirs written? In 1818, to take the place of a 
previous version, which had been burned by the writer for security’s sake during 
the Hundred Days. According to her son’s introduction, occasion was given by 
the appearance of Mme de Stael’s Considerations, containing a study of Napoleon 
with which Mme de Remusat felt herself in general accord but which she wished 
to check by her own reminiscences, particularly as she was conscious of having 
at one time had other opinions of him. I have already remarked on the kinship 
between Mme de Remusat’s account and that of Mme de Stael. It gives a slight 
but salutary shock to be reminded that the former was not written absolutely 
independently of the latter. Prince Napoleon suggests an even more unpleasant 
possibility. Had the writer, in presenting matters as she does, some special object 
or interest in view? 

At the moment of the first abdication, in 1814, when Chateaubriand’s pamph- 
let appeared, and her son - brought up in the customary adoration of the Emperor 
- expressed great indignation at it, Mme de Remusat gave him a lesson in worldly 
wisdom which, though delicately expressed, makes one wonder whether when 
everyday problems arose she did not exchange her high moral standards for more 
practical ones. 

Mr de Chateaubriand’s book is not a pamphlet. I could put my hand to each of 
his pages ... We shall explain to you how we, respecting your tender years, took 
care to shield your eyes from a thousand matters which it was better for you not to 
know. Destined as you were to enter his service, you had to be fed on illusions 
respecting him. For the last three months [compared with the memoirs, this period 
must indeed be accounted short] your father and I have anxiously been looking for 
a change such as is now impending — Do not forget at this juncture to draw upon 
yourself the good regard of the public. 1 

How far the testimony of the memoirs is weakened by these letters I do not 
intend to assess, nor shall I attempt to judge how far Taine’s portrait would be 

1. Napoleon et ses detracteurs, 108. 



affected by being deprived of those touches which were contributed from the 
memoirs. It is clear that there is a problem here which Taine, with his customary 
assurance, did not recognize, and not only in the case of Mme de Remusat’s 

I should add, however, that the criticism levelled at Taine for excessive and 
uncritical use of memoirs does not hold good for the most important part (in 
content and range) of his work, the brilliant study of the institutions of the 
Consul and Emperor. Naturally he uses memoirs here too, but the names of 
Mme de Stael, Miot, Bourrienne, and Mme de Remusat will hardly be found any 
more, and generally speaking the quotations given are of a kind less liable to 
objections. Moreover, much use is made of official documents, of the Moniteur, 
and of Napoleon’s correspondence. 

However this may be, Taine’s description of Napoleon was very far from 
henceforth dominating French historical literature. 

Part 4 


The Political and Intellectual Background 

Taine’s book, one might almost say, was the starting-point for the best in 
Napoleonic literature which accepted and eulogized Napoleon. I would not go 
so far as to assert proper hoc, but the post hoci s undeniable. It was only now that the 
real stream of studies, monographs, serious histories of this or that aspect made 
their appearance. They were much more thorough than previous works, and 
were based upon the archive material which was slowly being brought to light. 
And most of this new output was favourable to Napoleon. 

There is indeed something symptomatic about this trend, and the question 
arises whether it can again be explained by the circumstances of the day. The 
answer must undoubtedly be in the affirmative, but not every admirer of 
Napoleon should be labelled Bonapartist. After Napoleon Ill’s fall, Bonapartism 
possessed little weight as a party with pretensions to an imperial restoration. The 
humiliating memory of 1870 was an unsurmountable obstacle. In 1879 a further 
blow was dealt the cause by the miserable death of the young former Prince 
Imperial in South Africa. This was followed by paralysing divisions in the party. 
Bonapartism was still affected by the cleavage which had characterized the career 
of the great Napoleon. There was the radical tendency, to which the Napoleonic 
legend had from the first given prominence, harking back to the Revolution, 
anti-clerical and almost republican. But there was also a conservative tendency, 
to which Napoleon III had most closely adhered, though not without contradic- 
tions and hesitations. His coup d'itat of 1851 had cast him for the role of ‘saviour 
of society ’, like the First Consul in Year VIII. And just as the latter had seen in 
the Catholic Church a useful basis for his power, so did Napoleon III rely on the 
clergy, and this without relapsing into those conflicts to which his great forebear 
had owed the support of the anti-clericals. 

Yet, divided though it was, and played out in the realm of practical politics, in 
one respect Bonapartism still showed its unity and reflected a trend existing 
among large sections of the French people. Whether radical or conservative, 
whether on the side of the workers or of the capitalists, whether anti-clerical or 
clerical, it was filled with suspicion, contempt, and hostility towards parliamen- 
tarianism and towards that liberalism and intellectualism with which this had its 
closest associations. These were the forces on which the Third Republic had to 



rely, but they did. not show to the best advantage in its service, nor did the regime 
succeed in winning for them universal respect. Many who would certainly not 
have called themselves Bonapartists were sufficiently antagonized to become 
conscious of a sense of kinship with the Consul-Emperor. 

This was aggravated by a feeling of discomfort in wider intellectual spheres. 
There was a sharp reaction against the high expectations held in the third quarter 
of the century with regard to science, and against the exclusive domination of the 
an alytical spirit and of reason. Youth turned away from the spiritual leadership 
of Renan and Tame, and even Zola had already passed the zenith of his influence. 
But to explain the readiness of the public to accept the Napoleonic legend, we 
must point to political events before everything else. 

People were smarting from 1870, and it seemed to many as if this peaceful 
bourgeois government was taking that disgrace lying down. How strong this 
impatience was appeared in 1888, with the senseless adventure of Boulanger, the 
general and Minister of War, who had little to commend him save his easy 
eloquence and his handsome charger, but who stirred up ideas of revanche and 
thus for a moment endangered the existence of the Republic. It appeared possible 
to arouse elemental feelings of scorn and contempt against the parliamentary 
regime, hi the case of some, anti-German feelings were offset by Anglophobia. 
Colonial expansion, that dominating feature of French history after 1 870, brought 
about much friction with the leading colonial power. In the nineties, the Fashoda 
incident nearly led to war. It is true that at the same time it was argued vehemently 
that overseas interests must never be allowed to wipe out the painful memory of 
the loss of the Rhine. And in any case, the anti-British tendency gave rise to a 
sense of kinship with the man who had hated la perfide Albion so bitterly. There 
was so close a connexion in the French mind between Britain and parliamen- 
tarianism, Britain and liberalism, that in moments of tension these great 
conceptions appeared almost un-French, and Napoleon the autocrat was in- 
stinctively seen as a patriot. 


Then there came the Panama scandal, which poured discredit in large doses on 
both Parliament and the Republic. Hard on its heels came the Dreyfus affair. At 
first it threatened to raise the army into an independent force, as the only true 
exponent of the State, on a wave of anti-semitic and chauvinist passion, supported 
by every conservative and reactionary interest, drowning parliament, free 
speech, justice, and reason. But the forces of the mind, armed with the best 
traditions of French civilization, put up a brave defence, and after a struggle 
which will always be among the finest episodes in French history, the Dreyfus 



affair ended in a severe defeat for fascist tendencies - if I may use this word avant 
la lettre - in French intellectual and political life. 

All this had a direct effect on the view taken of Napoleon. It must of course 
not be imagined that all the defenders of the innocent but condemned Dreyfus 
were hostile to the historic figure of the Emperor, or vice versa, although at first 
glance this oversimplification seems not untenable. In any case the mental 
attitude which was suspicious of all analysis and inquiry - especially when the 
hero of Austerhtz, the martyr of St Helena, was the object - which accepted the 
legend as worthy of veneration, which preferred to deal in such categories as 
patriotism versus defeatism, the true Frenchman versus the servant of the enemy, 
of the hate-ridden envious outside world, the servile imitator of British politics 
and culture (a hit at all liberalism this - Mme de Stael, Quinet, Taine, were 
always citing the example of Britain): this mental attitude came into its own 
with the agitation against the Jewish ‘traitor’. When Dreyfus was found to be 
innocent, there was a collapse. The masses reflected this, however; and through 
them political life. The Republic was now based on firm foundations. But as far 
as cultural life was concerned, the victory of justice and common sense was not so 
fruitful. In particular many of the intellectual leaders who had risen in support of 
the army’s honour, as though it would have been damaged by the reversal of an 
unjust sentence, kept their minds obstinately shut to evidence, and the mental 
mood which had given rise to the tragic mistake was proudly carried into the 
new century. Maurice Barres remained more of a leading figure m literary 
circles than Anatole France, who, sceptic though he was, had seen where justice 
lay in the Dreyfus affair. 


In 1899 Maurice Barres had written from Rennes some sensational articles on the 
re-trial, in one of which, after his own fashion, he had given a sketch of the noble 
figure of Colonel Picquart, the officer who had dared to break right through the 
officers’ plot. Of this article he says in his memoirs that his mother took it and 
read it by the grave of his father. ‘And therefore’, a French literary historian says 
sarcastically, ‘the bordereau was indeed by Dreyfus.’ Barres also wrote in his 

I have never felt the need of any other ideas than those in which I was soaked from 
birth onwards. Thanks to them I have always had a perfect knowledge of what was 

The same literary historian quoted above, having contrasted Anatole France’s 
relative loneliness with Barry’s circle of kindred spirits, also states: 

The basis of objective truth, on which the intellectuals of 1897 triumphed 



juridically, morally, and politically, has therefore proved, from the literary point 
of view, an ungrateful ground compared with the basis of organic, inherited, 
passionate truth. 1 

In 1897, when Barres was thirty-six years old, his famous novel Les der acines 
appeared, the first part of a trilogy, Le Roman de I’Energie nationale, 111 which he 
proposed giving a sociological study of French youth, for whom at the same time 
he developed a social philosophy. The figure of Napoleon is given the central 
place in the first volume. Barres’s young people, burning with desire to do some- 
thing, to place their lives in the service of a purpose, visit the tomb in .Les Invalides , 
to receive inspiration from Napoleon. They do not seek out the Napoleons of 
history, nor do they attempt to choose between them, for 
they have disentangled from among them the Napoleon of the soul. Without any 
social or moral preconceptions, without weighing the benefits of his wars or the 
worth of his governmental despotism, in all simplicity, they love Bonaparte. 

And indeed, the author speculates, what was Napoleon’s profoundest capacity? 
He has stated it himself: ‘As for me, I had the gift of electrifying men.’ His 
enduring significance, so Barres concludes a rhetorical passage which I shall spare 
the reader, will for ever remain: ‘napoleon teacher of energy.’ Even 
today, ‘Ins touch still has the power to enlarge the soul’. Nor is the character 
made up merely of what Napoleon Bonaparte was in bis lifetime: all that has 
since been said or sung by the admirers and the poets, the great man’s voices, has 
made it expand in the world of imagination, and the lads who are now meeting 
round his tomb add their tribute of sound to that triumphant symphony of the 
still lengthening cortege of Caesar. 

There is no need to quote further. It is obvious that Barres is purely pragmatic 
in his view of the Napoleon figure. What does he care for this or that interpreta- 
tion of the wars or of the centralized administration, or for moral or social ‘pre- 
conceptions’? The great Napoleon is what he wants, his greatness still increased 
by tradition and legend, to provide inspiration for youth, to spur them on, to give 
them courage to perform great deeds and make great sacrifices. Barres was a 
disciple of Taine, and in many respects continued to venerate him. In Taine’s 
writings, too, can be found this idea of the value of tradition, of what is a nation’s 
own, the respect for what has grown. But in resolutely putting those values 
above morality and truth, Barres was joining the reaction against Taine, as is 
conclusively proved by his glorification of Napoleon. Resulting from a com- 
bination of political and spiritual factors, it is typical of the period. That is why I 
have included it in my introduction to the historical glorification of Napoleon. 

I intend to illustrate this historical glorification from the works of four writers, 
but first I must pause to consider the curious figure of Prince Napoleon. 

1. A.Thibaudet, Histoire de la litteraturefrangaise de 1789 a nos jours (1936), pp. 413,420. 

Prince Napoleon 


Prince Napoleon, son of Jerome (the king for a day of the shadowy King- 
dom of Westphalia), was sixty-five years old when he took up Ins pen to refute 
Taine. He was an excitable and crotchety but by no means insignificant figure. 
Robust, dark, with acquiline nose and flashing eyes, he seemed when the Second 
Empire crumbled the epitome of vital will-power as compared with the ailing, 
disheartened, and vacillating Napoleon III. 1 2 He had played a political role under 
his cousin, if only that of an impotent grumbler. Against Eugenie’s aggressive 
conservatism and clericalism, he had been the spokesman at court of a popular 
anti-clerical tendency, the opponent of the attempt to preserve the favour of 
French Catholics by bolstering up the temporal power of the Pope in his last 
bastion and thus raise a barrier against Italian unity. He was a representative of the 
Napoleonic legend in its most radical version. 3 

The historic figure of Napoleon, which he defended with such asperity against 
its traducers, had for him a profound significance, not only, as he was wholly 
convinced, for Inis own personal life but for that fatherland which had banished 
him after his family’s second downfall. ‘To defend Napoleon’s memory is still 
to serve France’, he declared. As to the principles which Napoleon bequeathed to 
posterity, he believes that only these can solve the problem of the coexistence of 
democracy with a strong authority. 

Executive authority springing from a direct, particular, and separate mandate, 
legislative power confined within the sphere of deliberation and supervision. Our 
parliamentary regime, which is becoming impracticable, if only as a result of the 
multiple divisions of public opinion, is condemned by all far-seeing minds. We 
are faced with this alternative; either the country will be subjected to the dictator- 
ship of an assembly, or it will return to the true conception of democratic and 
representative government. 

1. cf. P. de la Gorce, Histotre du Second Empire, vii, 164; G. Hanotaux, Histoire 
de la France contemporaine, iv, 472; the same work, 1, 488: ‘Le prince dtait un homme de 
haute valeur intellectuelle, ambitieux, intemperant, plus embarrassant peut-etre pour les 
siens que pour ses adversaires.’ 

2. ‘ N’oubhant pas [writes Hanotaux] les origines rdvolutionnaires, il avait recueilh, 

dans l’heritage des Bonaparte, la these republicaine, populaire, et plebiscitaire.’ 




Given this attitude, how does he view the history of his famous uncle? We have 
already seen how his work as editor of the correspondence had been influenced 
by it. He defends himself against the attacks winch he had to endure on that 
score, though without adding any new arguments. Has argument that the 
publication on such a scale of the whole political correspondence of so recent 
and hotly debated a figure was in itself an unusual and a courageous action, has 
some force. A Dutch historian, remembering what has happened to other royal 
and non-royal arclnves, cannot venture to reproach the Prmce and his principal 
Napoleon III too sternly for having omitted a small part of the correspondence, 
from a number of considerations of tact and prudence. 

On all points Prmce Napoleon is ready to defend the great Consul-Emperor. 
Throughout he sees him as the man of the people, the man of the Revolution, and 
ifhe grew too authoritarian durmg the period of the Empire, it was only under the 
compulsion of the wars winch the rulers inflicted upon him out of their hatred for 
young, dynamic, and promising France. In the end, durmg the Hundred Days, 
he was able for once to show himself m his true colours, though it was a pity, 
says the writer, permitting himself a faintly critical note, that with his new 
Chamber he followed the British system, instead of ‘developing consular 
institutions to their full possibilities of representation ’. 1 But on St Helena his 
radiant wisdom at last appears to the full. 

There he prophesies the future, and he, the captive of kings, forces them to hearken 
to his lessons. Freedom dawns m his spirit, as the necessary shape of the new society. 
He foresees the repubhc as democracy’s own form of government. 

But although tills final wisdom had only been revealed to Napoleon on St 
Helena, his nephew is not less ready to defend everything, literally everything, he 
had done before attaining this state of grace. Take the case of Bayonne. How 
could the Emperor, faced with that spectacle of baseness and folly, stand aside and 
leave Spain to the British? And ifhe came up against Spanish resistance he did 
arouse national consciousness, there as in Italy and in Germany. Even though it 
was aroused against him, it was he who had awakened it, and to him the nations 
owed their liberty. Or take the treatment of the Pope, and the scene against 
Portalis. Without hesitation Prince Napoleon approves of it all. In his eagerness, 
he leaves out that half of the story which might excuse Portalis ; hut the canon who 
had received the Pope’s letter was a ‘fanatical priest ’. With regard to the failure to 

i. An example of how the antithesis French-British was equated with the antithesis 
authoritarian-hberal; see p. 144 ff. 



secure peace in the summer of 1 813 at Prague, he here presents Mettemich in the 
role of criminal. The plot to truncate France existed already, in spite of all the fine 
phrases. (We shall be hearing more of this.) So Napoleon was above all the hero 
whose strong arm defended France. Hero he remained to the very end. 

Weariness invades the hearts of his generals. He alone, who carries within him the 
destiny of France, struggles to the last. 

Prince Napoleon’s popular and plebiscitary Caesarism, which sometimes 
approached out-and-out republicanism - were not the republicans among the 
most ardent disciples of the Napoleonic legend? - included a strain of intense and 
chauvinistic patriotism, vainglorious, sabre-rattling. Taine had said hardly any- 
thing about Napoleon’s battles. And yet, writes Prince Napoleon - 

Arcole, Rivoli, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Montmirail, these victories 
of which we can see the names inscribed on our banners, remain to us [he means 
after our defeat of 1870] as an inexhaustible treasure of glory and honour, as an 
intangible inheritance, which will enable us to recover all that we lost [Alsace and 
Lorraine] . . . These are the memories which constitute the soul of a people. M. 
Taine speaks with the true sceptic’s contempt of ‘those poor trusting and gullible 
Gauls’ [the French who threw themselves into the arms of Napoleon]. Indeed, to 
them Napoleon gave the most precious of gifts: self-respect, confidence in their 
own work, the fame of a limitless courage and of an immeasurable energy. In the 
passing days of our misfortune [before long la revanche !] the value of those priceless 
boons is felt more deeply than ever. The glory of Napoleon is a national possession : 
whoever touches it defaces the nation itself. 

It may be said, all this is no longer history. But among the historians I shall be 
discussing next, and not only among the first four, these same ideas and emotions 
may be detected, not so fervently expressed, and barely emerging from a more 
sober historical context, but even so the driving force of historical imagination 
and reconstruction. 

2 Henry Houssaye 


Henry Houssaye’s 1814 appeared in 1888. The book had an amazing 
success, and brought its author into the Academy. (I must remark in passing that 
from that day to this the writer who was or is pro-Napoleon has had a much 
better chance of becoming a member of that illustrious company than one who 
had or has indulged in criticism. Besides Houssaye there are Vandal, Sorel, 
Masson, Madelin, Bainville, among those with whom I am concerned.) Hous- 
saye, who had previously devoted himself to Greek history, continued to exploit 
his new mine, and followed up the weighty volume on 1814 with three weighty 
volumes on 1815. The last of these appeared in 1905. 

1814 gives a very detailed account of the events of that year, the campaign in 
France, the abdication at Fontainebleau. The writer does not enter into discussions 
as to intentions and responsibilities. With all the greater assurance does he distri- 
bute blows and favours. The previous events which had landed France and 
Napoleon in that tragic situation he brushes aside in his introduction, with a 
remark supposed to have been made by a peasant: Tt is no longer a question of 
Bonaparte. Our soil is invaded. Let us go and fight.’ From this reasoning - or 
refusal to reason - follows naturally the thesis of complete solidarity between 
France and Napoleon. It leads the writer to take up a position of fierce hatred 
against all those who thought that in this crisis France could be saved at the cost 
of Napoleon. When finally, after miracles of leadership and energy, Napoleon’s 
resistance against the allied armies is beginning to collapse, he appears at Fontaine- 
bleau (Paris is in the enemies’ hands) as the true hero of tragedy, abandoned by 
cowards, and Marmont, the marshal whose defection forces him in the end to 
abdication, is the traitor. We already know this interpretation, from Thiers. 1 
With what vehemence does Houssaye’s clear-cut account, for all its constant 
matter-of-factness, drive it home ! 

The villains of 1814 are Talleyrand and Marmont (the Prince of Benevento and 
the Duke of Ragusa). Houssaye considers the sole motive of the marshal to be 
‘vanity’ 3 : he succumbed to the appeals that were addressed to him to raise 

1. cf. above, p. 65. 

2. 1814, p. 593: ‘Marmont trahit - car livrer i 1 ’ennemi une position et un corps 
d’armee s’appelle trahir - uniquement par vanity par la vanite de jouer un grand r 61 e 
glorieux.’ (See above, p. 65, n. 1.) 



France out of the depths. He was flattered that it was to him that men turned. He 
already saw himself as a second General Monk (at Charles II’s Restoration in 
1660), receiving Louis XVIII and making a name for himself m history. Nor is 
Talleyrand any better. He is nothing but an intriguer and a self-seeker. Houssaye 
scornfully describes the log-rolling and wire-pulling, the whispering and 
scurrying, gomg on in those Parisian circles which had for so long (certainly 
since 1 807, and more or less enthusiastically according to circumstances) indulged 
in Frondist activities. These were the circles of the aristocracy, recently and in 
many cases only apparently ‘rallied’, with ramifications among the Emperor’s 
higher officialdom. Houssaye scoffs at the ca’ canny liberals ; the royalists were at 
least active. The most cunning, and the most careful, was Talleyrand. What was he 
after ? Not a restoration of the Bourbons, on whom he could not rely for his own 
future and who could not in any case give him more than a premiership. His 
dream was a Regency Council for the King of Rome, of which he would be the 
President, and for fifteen years . . . But Napoleon had to be got out of the way 
first. If only he would get himself lolled in action I If necessary there were other 
methods, and Talleyrand did not shrink from them. Tins model of ‘perfidy’, 
writes Houssaye, was no more fastidious than the alhed rulers. 

Talleyrand was certainly used to treading labyrinths. In his career as Minister 
of Foreign Affairs, he had not forgotten his own mterests, and his fortune was 
mostly built up in the years after the peace of Luneville, when the German 
princes scrambled after secularizations of Church property, and used to come to 
Paris to obtain - or to buy - the necessary authorization. But does he therefore 
deserve to be accused of basing his actions after 1814 solely on personal motives? 
No better treatment can be expected from a writer whose mind is hermetically 
sealed against the idea of a distinction being made between Napoleon and France. 
But is this idea so foolish? We have already encountered it a number of times, 
as entertained by men of some account. It was not surprising if in 1814, all of a 
sudden, it became a matter of practical politics. Houssaye does not discuss the 
matter. Yet in order to persuade the well-informed reader, he ought first to have 
disposed of the theory, which is on the face of it only too acceptable, that 
Napoleon’s mad lust for power, his overweening pride, had led to this catas- 
trophe. He ought to have refuted the thesis - denied, as we saw, by Prince 
Napoleon 1 - that Napoleon could still have obtained peace in the summer of 
1813 at Prague on reasonable terms, but had thrown away that chance; that even 
in the spring of 1814, as long as he saw the ghost of a chance that the fortunes of 
war might yet turn, he went on putting difficulties in the way of the eleventh-hour 
negotiations undertaken by the unfortunate Caulaincourt, his Minister of Foreign 
Affairs, and that he had thus brought upon himself the suspicion of the allies. Must 

1. We shall meet more discussion of this matter; cf. Sorel, p. 266. 


France meekly suffer his moods, and pay the price in the end? If Talleyrand 
thought otherwise, and saw a chance to come to an agreement with the allies 
without Napoleon, if necessary against Napoleon, that was surely not a policy 
to be set aside as treacherous, cowardly, interested, or false. Talleyrand’s policy 
lias its own relative justification, and at least deserves serious consideration. 
When I go more deeply into the problem of Napoleon’s foreign policy in the 
next section, the problem of Talleyrand will inevitably crop up again. He had his 
own well-thought-out system, to which he tenaciously adhered even though his 
actions were not always in conformity with it. But generally French historians 
are little inclined to praise Talleyrand, least of all Houssaye, who in this connexion 
too, fails to see beyond the year 1814. 

Resistance to the uttermost is the only policy he recognizes in the tragic 
circumstances of the invasion. He continually emphasizes that the people would 
have supported such a policy. A defeatist mentality was to be found only among 
the aristocrats, the well-to-do middle classes, the intellectuals ; and against this the 
high officials hardly dared to take strong measures, if indeed, like the marshals 
themselves, they were not tarred with the same brush. Hence those scenes, which 
so disgusted Houssaye, when the allies entered Paris and while Napoleon was still 
at Fontainebleau with his army. Cheering crowds flaunting the white of the 
Bourbons greeted the foreign troops, the statue of Napoleon was pulled down 
from the triumphal column in the Place Vendome, and the next day there was a 
gala perfor man ce at the Opera, with Alexander of Russia and Frederick William 
of Prussia as the guests of honour, and a packed hall listened excitedly to the hymns 
specially made for the occasion : 

Long live Alexander 

Long live this King of Kings . . . 

Long live William 

And his valiant warriors . . J 

Far be it from me to say that I cannot sympathize with the shame and irritation 
felt by the Frenchman at memories like these. The exhibition was certainly not 
distinguished by taste. Shame at the scene can, however, be expressed in a variety 
of ways. Barbier expressed it, as we have seen (p. 32), by passionately cursing 
Napoleon. Houssaye gives vent to it in a bitter recollection of French peasants 
driven from their homes by the invader, of French women raped by them, of 
those who died on the battle-fields of Craonne, la Fere-Champenoise, and so on. 
We are growing familiar with such contrasts through what we have already seen 
of French reactions to the Napoleonic drama. But to us, who have seen a similar 
situation elsewhere develop so differently, other considerations are suggested. 

1. p. 504* 



How much more intelligible, in view of the Paris scenes, is the consistent 
distinction made at the peace by the allies between the French people and 
Napoleon. Talleyrand’s policy is explained thereby and to a certain extent 
justified. But how did it come about that the Napoleonic regime had so loose a 
hold on the French that it could be thrown off, as it were, in one jerk? 

I mentioned in passing the slackness of the high officials, even Savary, Minister 
of Police, in dealing with the conspiratorial activities of Talleyrand and his 
colleagues. Houssaye tried to explain this, and m so doing gives one proof that 
he did not after all confine his view entirely to the year he was describing Indeed, 
it goes without saying that no historical presentation can take shape without 
awareness of the events which have preceded it. I want, at any rate, to draw 
attention to the fact that Houssaye here seeks an explanation in an error com- 
mitted by his hero in the past, an error proceeding from a profound instinct in the 
man - Thiers, too, repeatedly referred to it. With his oppressive and unrelenting 
supervision, and his demand for complete blind obedience, Napoleon had 
undermined the initiative of his ministers and servants. Of Joseph - who, driven 
from Spain, in 1814 was entrusted with a sort of regency - Houssaye says that 
what will he once possessed had been broken by Napoleon. 1 

But there is another factor of more importance, of which he seems dimly 
aware ; it is indeed implicit in his repeated observation concerning the difference 
in attitude between the people and the upper middle classes. What was the use to 
Napoleon of the people’s readiness - always supposing it in fact existed, which is a 
debatable point - when the people had no place in his government and had fallen 
into a state of complete incapacity under his rule? One qUwo things would have 
been necessary, for resistance to the last ditch. Either the lc ver levels of the nation 
would have had to be associated with the public interest by a democratic system 
of government, or (and this was an idea which could hardly occur to the genera- 
tions before our own) the dictatorial regime would have had to organize the 
nation as well as the State. At the critical moment for Napoleon’s government, 
however, the defection of the men at the top was sufficient to overthrow the 
rigidly organized and centralized state structure, while the nation, abandoned to 
its own devices, looked passively on. 


In 1815 the same problem had to be faced. Napoleon is back. Without meeting 
resistance anywhere, he has reached Paris, and is Emperor as before. Not quite as 
before, though; for he is now to be a liberal Emperor, and before departing for 
the wars he has permitted the election of a parliament. Houssaye admits, like 
1. 1814 , p. 415. 



Thiers (see p. 66), that in spite of his full realization of the need, for peace, Napo- 
leon had inevitably to bring war once more to France. He might promise what he 
liked, he might even believe Ills own promises, for war certainly did not suit him 
at that moment, yet, writes Houssaye, 

who is going to believe that lie did not cherish the hope that the moment would 
come when he could tear up the hunuliatmg peace treaty of 1814 with one blow 
of his sword? He only wanted to wm time and choose his hour. It was thus good 
policy and good strategy to attack hun m the midst of Ins preparations, rather than 
to wait till he had established Ins authority and built up his army once more. 1 

Much, indeed, is implied in tins admission. But Houssaye does not remain 
consistent to the view he appears for a moment to hold, and when a volume and a 
half later he comes to describe the situation after Waterloo, he puts it like this: 

The broad masses, with their common sense, realized that the Emperor, even though 
he might be the occasion or the pretext [my italics] of the war, had by no means 
promoted its outbreak. That formidable and detested war had been willed and 
made inevitable by Europe . . . French pride was revolted by the idea that the 
powers wanted to impose a government on the people of the Revolution. The more 
ardently peace was loved, the greater was the bitterness against those who disturbed 
it with that insolent intention. The peril of a new invasion ranged all hearts on 
Napoleon’s side, for in him men still saw the sword of France.* 

But though these were the feelings of the majority, they were not, says Hous- 
saye, shared by everyone. There was the small group of royalists ; there were the 
liberals, who were strong among the better classes and who dominated the re- 
cently elected Chamber, Among these the old doubts and difficulties stirred 
again. La Fayette, for example, the hero of 1789, was now a man of importance, 
and his thoughts were centred on liberty. Indeed, should Napoleon enter upon a 
desperate struggle for life or death with the invading allies, what would the future 
be? Probably another defeat and still worse confusion; and even in the event of a 
triumph, would not the newly acquired constitution founder in its wake? If they 
supported Napoleon in this gamble, might they not be saddling themselves with 
another despotism, and start an endless succession of fresh wars and conquests? 

It seems to me that the situation made such considerations unavoidable. As for 
the passion of the crowd, its blindness, its readiness to forget, one might well 
describe these as weaknesses which the dictator-demagogue is ever wont to abuse. 
The history of France in the preceding fifteen years seems to prove nothing so 
strikingly as the fatal attraction exercised on the people by the call to adventure, 
by the dizzying choice between greatness and downfall, the usual lures offered by 
conquerors and gamblers ; the fatal conjunction, one might say, over the heads of 

1. 1815, 1, 446. 2. 1813,111, 2. 



the thinking minority, of Dictator and Demos. But Hc-ussaye will have none of 
these hairsplittings : he admits nothing but dereliction of duty. 

Betrayal, personified for him in the previous year by Talleyrand, is now 
embodied in Fouche. This ex-terrorist, created Duke of Otranto by Napoleon, 
and in his element in the Department of Police, was certainly a much less attrac- 
tive figure. Houssaye ascribes it to his cunning, and particularly to the rumours 
he spread, against his own better knowledge, about Napoleon’s plans to dismiss 
the Chamber, that this body, in terror, got in first with a demand for abdication. 
By thus increasing the importance of Fouche’s intrigues, the figure of Napoleon 
is made to stand out still more radiantly. 

The Chamber asks me to abdicate [so Napoleon burst out in his ministerial 
council]. Have the consequences of my doing so been calculated? If I abdicate, 
you have no longer an army . . . Are declarations about rights [of the King of 
Rome, of the French nation to decide about its own regime], are speeches, likely to 
prevent a collapse? People are blind to the fact that I am no more than the pretext 
of the war, which is in reality aimed at France ... By delivering me up, France will 
be delivering herself up ... I am to be deposed, not for the sake of liberty, but from 

Tins was eloquence, striking and to the point. These were the arguments 
Napoleon was hound to put forward, and he did it with an incomparable clarity 
and energy. But the argument cries out for criticism. How much was passed over 
in silence or twisted ! Yet Houssaye’s comment is as follows : 

These words, whose eloquence was like piercing steel, and burning like a flame, 
galvanized the ministers . . . Fouchd became most anxious. ‘That devil of a man ! ’ 
he said a few hours later to a royalist friend, ‘he did frighten me, this morning. As 
I sat listening to him, I believed he was going to start all over again. Happily, one 
does not start all over again .’ 1 

The second abdication, like the first, Houssaye regards as a pitiable spectacle in 
which true greatness is deserted or assailed by puny beings. He girds at the 
Chamber for its impudence in asking that the abdication should come speedily. 
For Napoleon was hesitating; a strange inability to make up his mind had come 
over him. Was there still a possible way out? Perhaps an alliance with the restless 
masses - But this would involve giving a free rein to their revolutionary instincts. 
He shrank from it in the end; out of sincere regard for the interests of his country, 
says Houssaye. Or was it because he feared that that kind of excitement would be a 
straw fire, useless for the purpose of carrying on the war? Anyhow, our author 

i. 1815, 111,22. 



can only feel bitter scorn for the impatience of the Chamber in the face of the 
hero wrestling with his fate. 2 


Did the second peace of Paris justify Napoleon’s warning that the Allies* animus 
was directed against France? Certainly many Frenchmen, then and later, believed 
it. This explains the bitterness with which a man like Houssaye regards the 
collapse of the united front against the invader. France had to relinquish a 
number of frontier towns. Landau, Saarlouis, Philippeville, and Marienbourg 
were the most important, and the total area involved was about 2000 square 
kilometres. She had to pay reparations of 700 million francs, and was to be 
occupied for a period of five years (which in fact was reduced to three). She was 
also made to restore the stolen art treasures which had been left to her in 1814. 
The Due de Richelieu, the Prime Minister, signed the treaty with trembling hand, 
and returned deathly pale to his colleagues, so Houssaye related: ‘He burst out 
“I am dishonoured ! ” 

When one considers what France had brought upon the world for nearly a 
generation, and once again after her first defeat, it must be agreed that she was 
treated very gently and that the allies did indeed stick to their distinction between 
France and the disturber of the peace to whom she had entrusted herself. 

houssaye's work 

These four volumes of Houssaye are nevertheless exceptionally fine books. His 
method is that of the mosaic maker. From left, from right, from every possible 
source, memoirs, correspondence, newspapers, often also from unpublished 
archive material, from police reports to diplomatic documents, he takes quota- 
tions, figures, authentic conversations, intimate details, significant incidents, and 
reports of the state of mind in the army or among the general public. He does not 
thro whis light solely on Napoleon ; events in the whole of the country are brought 
to life. And this, not by means of eloquent phrases or by the display of his own 
theories and views. Every statement is backed at once by apposite data, if he does 
not allow it to emerge automatically from the facts. Yet the general effect is not 
in the least jerky ; the work has pace, and remains clear and comprehensible. 

I trust, however, that my comments will have been sufficient to dispel the 
illusions of those who think that such methods would leave a writer little 

x. 1813, in, 55 ff. 


2. 1815 , nr, 561. 


opportunity to infuse historical narrative with his own political beliefs and 
preferences . 1 

i. Even so sceptical a critic as Anatole France has allowed himself to be taken in. ‘M. 
Henry Houssaye a 6crit la, d’un style sobre, une histoire impartiale. Pas de phrases, point 
de paroles vames et omees; partout la vente des faits et l’eloquence des choses.’ Vie 
Htteraire, I, 184. France compares the attitude of the French in 1814 with that of their 
descendants in 1870-71, very much to the disadvantage of the former. In the latter crisis 
there were no Frenchmen on the side of the enemy, patriotism is now purer, and more 
proud, a consequence of democracy . . . He has not discerned the ideological element in 

3 Artliur-L<§vy 


In 1892 appeared a book which is still popular, Arthur-Levy’ s Napoleon intime. 1 
Unlike Houssaye’s volumes, it extends over the whole career and is designedly 
polemical and defensive. The book exudes a certain charm, yet at the same time it 
continually provokes the reader. For Arthur-Levy really goes too far. His 
Napoleon is amiability itself. If he had a fault, it was that of excessive kindness. 
So anxious is the writer to depict the humanity, that he overlays the greatness 
with homely touches - about his relationship with his mother and brothers, with 
Josephine, and later even with the Habsburg archduchess. Hie whole is supported 
with a wealth of quotations. If the resulting somewhat mawkish picture is laid 
beside that of Taine, one is inclined to wonder if the two writers are dealing with 
the same man. The contrast is instructive as to the possibilities of partisan 
representation open to the historian through selection from superabundant 


The first aim of Arthur-Levy (whose later work, NapoUon et la Paix , equally the 
antithesis of Taine, I shall discuss further on) was no doubt to refute the repre- 
sentation in the famous ‘portrait’ of an inhuman, or, if I may so call it, a non- 
human Napoleon. Like Prince Napoleon, he attacks the crown witnesses Mme 
de Stael and Mme de Remusat. What he says about them had already been said or 
hinted innumerable times, and was to be endlessly repeated. 

Mme de Stael’s initial enthusiasm for the victor of Lodi and Arcole and for the 
man of Brumaire (followed, as I have previously told, by disappointment and 
hostility) he reduces by slight touches to the story of a tiresome ambitious woman 
pursuing a celebrity, who keeps her at arm’s length, not without some asperity; 
this, he says, the malicious Mme de Stael, who had passed from enthusiasm to 
tender emotions, never forgave. 

But is it so strange that she did not at first perceive the objectionable nature of 
the young hero, as she later described it in her Considerations, and took him not 

1. The edition in the ‘Nelson Library’ is somewhat shortened; and what is more un- 
fortunate, the sources have been omitted. 



only for a republican but for a sincere friend of literature, scholarship, and culture 
generally? Putting aside all evidence (which did not at that moment meet the 
eye) of consuming ambition, of pitiless trampling on the weak, of unscrupulous 
power politics, there was something uncommonly attractive in the spectacle of 
that court at Mombello, for a court it was, where Italian poets were welcome, 
of that journey to Egypt, which might almost be thought to have been under- 
taken for the exploration of Egyptian antiquities. Scholars accompanied the 
general, and he won their hearts by the seriousness, the insight, and the imagina- 
tion with which he discussed their subject, be it literature or the stars, in short by 
the impression he gave of a disinterested taste for the tilings of the mind. When 
he gushed over Ossian’s excessively romantic archaic nature poetry, faked by 
Macpherson, everyone thought it charming. In Paris, in those weeks before 
the coup d'etat, the general was nowhere so much at home as at the Imtitut, the 
centre of the learned world and of the Revolution’s intellectual strength. There is 
nothing surprising about the fact that Mme de Stael did not discover ambition 
behind this innocent facade, and nothing is more natural than to accept the 
explanation that the coolness she showed nnmediately after the 18th Brumaire 
was due to her disappointment at the authoritarian direction taken by the First 
Consul. 1 

As regards Mme de Remusat, she frankly admitted, as we have seen, that her 
ideas about Bonaparte changed with the years. She had started by admiring him, 
at a period when Mme de Stael had long passed that phase. Even after the Enghien 
affair, she still felt affection for him and listened eagerly to those long stories about 
his life which the great man was so pleased to relate. She tells of one small incident 
in her Memoires. When she visited the army camp at Boulogne, where her 
husband was ill, the Consul, as he still was, would sometimes have long talks with 
her alone in the evening; the intimacy even gave rise to scandal. This is enough 
for Arthur-Levy. 

Is it not pitiful [he writes] to see philosophy of history [an obvious dig at Taine] 

i. cf. Paul Gautier, Madame de Stael et Napoleon (Paris thesis, 1902), p. 32 ff. Ed. 
Driault accuses the writer in his review of the work { Revue d’histoire moderne et contempor- 
aine, v, 57) of having attached too much importance to the testimonies of Bonaparte 
himself, such as are to be found in the Memorial and in Bourrienne. ‘M. Gautier a beaucoup 
exagdre les sentiments particuliers de Mme de Stael pour Bonaparte; la verite est sans 
doute tout simplement que, comme tant d’autres, elle l’a era d’abord republicain, qu’elle 
a ete vite detrompee, et que reconnaissant en lui le “Tyran”, elle Pa alors combattu.’ 
To this I would add that Sorel too in his charming, but, as regards her ideas, far from 
sympathetic little book on Mme de Stael (see p. 233 below) accepts on very insufficient 
evidence the view that she had visualized herself in the role of Cleopatra to the new 
Caesar, and that the hypothesis of a Mme de Stael disappointed in her amorous dream 
remained current; see for example Lacour-Gayet, Talleyrand, 1930, 1, 270 ff. 



pay attention to the chatter of two bluestockings both smarting from wounds to 
their feminine vanity and not inclined ever to forget it? 1 

Anyone who can say nothing better of Mme de Stael and Mme de Remusat 
than that they were bluestockings who could not resist the common feminine 
weakness for retaliation upon a man who has scorned them, puts himself in a 
category of writers from whom no important judgement on the intellectual 
and moral character of Napoleon is likely to emerge. 

Of Mme de Stael it is true that Arthur-Levy has something more to say, 
namely that as she herself tells us 2 she was hoping for a setback at the time of the 
Marengo expedition, the Consul’s first feat of arms. The only explanation he can 
give is that her love had turned to hate, and therefore she wished him ill ‘ even if 
the fatherland were to be ruined’. Mme de Stael, however, feared that the ruin 
of France was implied in a victory which would make the dictator all-powerful. 
It is open to anyone to question her judgement, but here an appeal to the reader’s 
patriotic feelings serves to cover a completely false presentation of the case. 


Arthur-Levy skates all too lightly over a number of other points. I shall only 
quote the passages m which he attempts to deal with ‘the main, if not the sole, 
reproaches upon which his detractors have based themselves to assert that Na- 
poleon was by instinct cruel and a persecutor’. To exaggerate the indictment in 
order to win an easy triumph is a well-known advocate’s trick. That Napoleon 
was cruel, and enjoyed persecution for its own sake, is certainly not a current 
assertion made by his ‘detractors’. The real indictment is that he stopped at 
nothing to reach his ends, and that in so doing he did not shrink from extreme 
callousness and severe persecution. But according to Arthur-Levy these ‘main, 
if not the sole, reproaches’ are ‘the execution of the Due d’Enghien at Vincennes, 
the banishment of Moreau, and the exile of Mme de Stael I shall leave his defence 
in these three cases for what it is worth, but the contention that he knows of no 
other of sufficient importance to rouse him to a similar effort is really going 
rather far. 

I have already dealt with several such: the liquidation of the ‘general staff 
of the Jacobins’ in 1 800-1; the capture and imprisonment of the Pope in 1809; 
the arrest of canons, cardinals, bishops in 1811; the execution, by order, of the 
bookseller Palm in 1806 and of Andreas Hofer in 1809 . 1 have also mentioned 
(p. 64) Napoleon’s ‘theory ’ that ruthless action in occupied territories is ‘humane’, 

1. Napoleon intime, p. 494. 2. Dix annees d’ exile. 

3. Napoleon intime , p, 472. 



because of its preventive effect Indeed, his correspondence is strewn with, incite- 
ments to pitiless repression. Here are a few further examples. 

In April 1806 Napoleon wrote to Mm at, whom he had just made Grand Duke 
of Berg: 

I am astonished that the notables of Cleves have refused to swear allegiance to you. 
Let them take the oath within twenty-four hours or have them arrested, bring 
them to trial, and confiscate their possessions. 1 

When news came of an insignificant revolt in Hesse, which till it became part 
of the new kingdom of Westphalia was under military rule, Napoleon wrote 
to the commander-in-chief on 8 January 1807: 

My intention is that the main village where the insurrection started shall be burnt 
and that thirty of the ringleaders shall be shot; an impressive example is needed to 
contain the hatred of the peasantry and of that soldiery. If you have not yet made 
an example, let there be one without delay . . . Let not the month pass without the 
principal village, borough, or small town which gave the signal for the insurrection 
being burned, and a large number of individuals being shot . . . Traces must be left 
in the cantons which have rebelled. 

In succeeding letters on the Hesse question, Napoleon demanded that sixty 
(twice that of his first order), then ‘at least two hundred* people, should be ex- 
ecuted. The general had long suppressed the petty revolt, and considered one 
execution quite sufficient. He could not help doing a bit more now, and Napo- 
leon’s ‘theory of repression* cost about ten more lives, while one house sym- 
bolized the burning of a town. Throwing priests mto prison was also a usual 
method of government. In 1809 Eugene was ordered to arrest a hundred priests 
from Parma and Piacenza, fifty from among the ‘disaffected* of each territory, 
and to send them to Corsica. The newcomers found several hundred fellow 
sufferers already there. Many of these cases, those of Palm and Hofer for ex- 
ample, are such as to throw doubt on the efficacy of the notorious ‘theory*. 
The most striking example of how such punishment can lead to more bloodshed 
is certainly the Dos May os, about which we are already informed (see p. 93 ff.). 
This was not directly ordered by Napoleon, but was a result of his only too 
well known inclination. 

What I have said above is enough to give some idea of the ‘reproaches* which 
Arthur-Levy should have considered if he wished to cleanse his hero of all 

I. See Rambaud, op. cit. pp. 132, 193. 
R - N.F.A. - F 




I do not want, however, to give the impression that this book has completely 
missed its purpose or that it is historically without value. The writer is not strong 
on general statements, and will stoop to the cheapest devices for the sake of 
debating points. Yet, reading his book, one has the impression of coming into 
contact with a man who was really intimate with the Emperor, though perhaps 
he did not understand him. His judgement concerning the major pohtical de- 
cisions and the tendencies of that remarkable mind is not of much value. But 
he saw Napoleon as he appeared in daily life : of this there can be no doubt. It 
is impossible to read the many extracts from his own letters, letters to Josephine 
and Marie Louise, to brothers and sisters, from the mass of official correspon- 
dence, and the many testimonies concerning him made by men of all sorts, 
officers and officials, ministers and courtiers, men and women, Frenchmen and 
foreigners, without beginning to question the picture drawn by Mme de 
Remusat and Mme de Stael. 

Not that this picture should be ignored - far from it. As copied and enlarged 
by Tame, it may be unacceptable, but Arthur-Levy has not proved more than 
that. These two women have undeniably made their own approach to the 
truth. Tire cynicism, the scorn of mankind, the lack of belief in nobility of 
motive - these observations have all been made from other quarters 1 and are 
confirmed only too patently by public actions. A portrait like the one put for- 
ward by Arthur-Levy, which preserves no trace of these traits, is unconvincing. 
Those gentle pastel tints of melting blue and dehcate pink could never be 

Yet the book gives us something nevertheless. It is after all a reply to Taine. 
It is strictly limited in scope, for the whole of Table’s work is not dealt with. 
Arthur-Levy does not attempt to discuss the figure of the statesman, nor his 
work as reorganizer of France. With these limitations, the author has proved 
something in his dehate with Taine. 

Napoleon cannot have Been so completely cut off from normal human spon- 
taneity. He did love Josephine, and she did make him suffer. He continued to 
feel affection for her; and though he cast her off, it hurt him. He moved his 
brothers about like pieces on a chess-board, he sacrificed their feelings to his 
policy, trampling on their self-respect and initiative in his reckless forward 
inarch - though Arthur-Levy says nothing of all this, it is none the less true. 
But he also had a great deal of patience with them, he felt himself tied to them 
one might almost say stupidly, and if one thinks of the fortunes and the peoples 

I. A striking example is the agreement in the memoirs of Chaptal, 

1 6z 


he shared out among them, high-handedly, at least there was nothing calculated 
about it and it was all too human. He could sometimes treat his generals and 
ministers with atrocious unfairness, and if his interest demanded it he could 
break them without mercy. But with them, too, he was extraordinarily long- 
suffering, he overlooked much and showered favours and benefits upon them, 
certainly with the cynical indifference of a man who considers everyone has his 
price, but also frequently with a certain geniality and even graciousness. 1 

And is it true to say that he could break them without mercy? True it certainly 
is, if one thinks of Admiral Villeneuve or General Dupont. But what is one to 
think of his curious indulgence to Talleyrand? Though he dismissed him as 
Minister of Foreign Affairs, and though he did not spare him sarcasm and even 
some of Ms famous fits of rage, he allowed him to remain in a position in which 
that man, the most dangerous of his opponents, could work against Mm. And 
long before the notorious scene at Fontainebleau in 1814, it was no secret to 
Napoleon that Ms marshals had had enough of Ms everlasting ambition and Ms 
oppressive superiority, but it was as though he felt as much tied to them as to 
Ms brothers. 

‘Alas,’ exclaims Arthur-Levy, after having once more quoted Taine on the 
crushing burden Ms arbitrariness imposed even on the most devoted, and the 
way in wliich he stifled everyone in Ms vicinity, 

Alas, how very much the contrary ! It was the gravest shortco min g of Napoleon’s 
character in Ms capacity as leader, it was if not the cMef yet the decisive cause of Ms 
greatest setbacks, that he was not always capable of imposing on Ms inner circle an 
inflexible authority, that he lacked the courage brutally to break the underground 
or open resistance of those on whom he had heaped riches and honours, that he 
was not able to hurt, to trample underfoot, to crush down or to stifle [these last 
words having been used by Taine]. 

The conflict is not so absolute as Arthur-Levy’ s simple psychology allows 
him to imagine, but in any case Ms interpretation causes one to reflect. 

Naturally, Arthur-Levy cannot begin to compete with Ms antagonist in 
creative power; but the pages he devotes to Napoleon as a worker are well 
worth reading alongside those of Taine. 2 Here again it is by means of a string 
of quotations, mostly from the letters themselves, that he gives an impression 
of the tireless concentrated attention winch Napoleon was able to turn on the 
most diverse affairs, down to the pettiest details; of Ms expert knowledge of 

1. Thiers is so impressed by it as to write, in a style that Arthur-Levy could not have 
improved upon: ‘Voir le sourire sur le visage de ses serviteurs, le sourire non de la 
reconnaissance, sur laquelle fl comptait peu en general, mais du contentement, etait l’une 
des plus vives jouissances de son noble coeur.’ 11, 126a. 

2. Napolion intime , pp. 588-618. 



every branch where he wished to impose his will; of his devoted and indefatig- 
able industry. 

To return once more to the central point of what I called the debate, was 
Napoleon indeed the complete egoist, the man who stood apart from his fellow- 
men? The very opposite, says Arthur-Levy. He never tires of repeating that 
Napoleon combines genius with the simplest humanity. He has all the normal 
instincts, the ordinary middle-class virtues. He is above all the social man. How 
otherwise, one is bound to ask, could he have become a lawgiver with such ease 
and such success? He was industrious, he had a sense of order and economy. His 
understanding of conjugal fidelity and of religion, though it went together with 
personal laxity and unbelief, was not merely intellectual, not just the calculation 
of a realist. All these mental habits belonged to Napoleon the man, were natural 
and spontaneous. 

I said that Arthur-Levy was hardly in a position to reach any important con- 
clusions on the intellectual and moral character of his hero. If his book provokes 
one to disagreement, it is not so much because he exaggerates, as because one 
feels the lack of balance between these humdrum, virtuous interpretations and 
the greatness of the historical figure. But one might also suggest, though not 
without hurting the feelings of more romantically inclined admirers, that just 
because our author was equally conventional and equally bourgeois in his views 
on morality and religion, in his appreciation of success and of property, he was 
able to get on these easy and genuinely familiar terms with Napoleon - or with 
one side of Napoleon. 

4 Frederic Masson 

Among writers about Napoleon there is no more singular figure than Frederic 
Masson. None was more wholehearted in liis admiration, none more passionate, 
more one-sided, more partisan, and also none more sincere, more honest; 
none was more convinced that he served truth, or more courageous m its ser- 
vice and more indifferent to what others would say of his revelations and his 
assertions. He had need of both courage and indifference. Not only did he arouse 
the irritation, the fury, the sarcasm of his opponents - what did he care about 
that, being magnificently contemptuous of the ‘ detractors ’ ! But even his fellow- 
Bonapartists were disconcerted, hurt, incensed, when he began his great work 
on the Bonaparte family and in no way spared the ‘Napoleomdes’, rather en- 
joying pulling them down, that the greatness of his hero might appear the more 
brilliant. Tins was hard on the descendants, who fancied themselves as the 
bearers of the glorious tradition, while it gave unholy joy to the detractors. 
But Masson did not allow himself to be put out, and went on fearlessly, year 
after year, volume after volume. 

As regards his attitude to Napoleon himself, it had nothing apologetic. One 
has only to read the introduction to Napoleon chcz lui y at the outset of the enor- 
mously lengthy series which he announced in 1894, with great self-assurance, 
at the age of forty-seven. Napoleon is for him the representative of military 
glory, and also of the State, of Authority. Nothing seems to him more natural 
than that professors, journalists, and lawyers yapped at his hero. In lus own day 
Napoleon’s inexorable laws ‘muzzled these three mouths of the Revolution’. 

He obliged the lawyers to defend their clients without insulting either the govern- 
ment or any private persons. He obhged the professors to teach their pupils the 
subjects for which they were paid, without preaching to them either atheism or 
contempt of the law. He obhged the literary men to respect their country’s lawful 
government, not to reveal to the enemy the weak points in our defence, not to lead 
the people’s imagination astray. 

Hence the hatred of all three of these groups. (Here we have the true Bonapartist 
method of disposing of the detractors. Reason, proofs? That would be serving 
their turn ! Lay about them, beat them up ! Vive I’Empereur!) 



But fortunately, the writer continues, the tide is turning. When Prince Napo- 
leon (a real man, with whom he had been on friendly terms) entered the lists 
against Taine and his ‘pamphlet’, a shudder went through the whole land. In 
the army, thank God, young Frenchmen were taught to honour the great 
general. A fresh wave of interest and admiration swept over the minds of men. 
Masson dreams of a Hero - in Carlyle’s sense, as he says later 1 - like Napoleon, 
who shall arise and chase out the rabble of tub-thumpers and hirelings who have 
made France their prey. May his work serve to prepare the way for this saviour ! 

This was written before the Dreyfus affair. After the debacle for the adherents 
of the army and the enemies of the parliamentary Republic in which this ended, 
Masson expressed himself with the same vehemence and clung to the same hope. 
‘I am a Frenchman, a patriot, and a militarist’, he snapped at the socialists, who 
had spoken tauntingly of his election to membership of the Academy as evidence 
of the decline of that honourable body. He insisted that he would be proud if his 
glorification of Napoleon, the man who made France great, should fire some 
youth of genius to nourish ‘wholesome ambitions’ and to take ‘curative de- 

Oh, would that he would come at last, the Liberator ! Oh, that he might disturb the 
parliamentary carousal over which Circe presides, and that these swine of the 
sorceress, rolling in the dregs of their laws and with their bloody fangs disputing 
the quivering fragments of France’s divine flesh, might hear their death knell in his 
approaching step. 

Oh, that ‘those fatted pigs’, mad with terror, might disperse in all directions, 
while the young hero, with a godlike and expiatory gesture, thrusts his sword 
into Circe’s throat . . . 

The Affaire had not allayed Masson’s excitement. This, then, is the political 
faith which inspired him in the task he had chosen, and which he was to carry 
out with unbelievable industry and pertinacity, the task of interpreting Napoleon 
the man. There was to be no romanticism, no rhetoric, no imaginative touches 
or poetry, nothing but facts, hard facts, with no other consideration than that 
of bringing the truth to light. ‘The Hero must appear entire, his every aspect 
illumined by an implacable light.’ 3 Thus not only the vicious pamphlets but 
the ingenuous childish apologies will be refuted. With the latter category he 
alludes to Arthur-Levy, who reduces everything to ‘ a bourgeois, banal, and staidly 
respectable formula’. He, Masson, will shrink from nothing. Indeed, if it can 
be said of Arthur-Levy that he reduced Napoleon’s humanity to his own level, 
Masson takes a plunge into it. He tells everything, including much which was 
grist to the detractors’ mill. 

1. In the introduction to volume v of Napolion et safamille (190a). 

2. Napolion chez lui, 1894, Introduction, 



These thirteen volumes of Napoleon et sa famille, in particular, not only dam- 
aged the reputation of the brothers and sisters but did not do much good to 
Napoleon’s. It was not only that the distribution of favours and of fortunes and 
afterwards of kingdoms among the whole following seemed to come strangely 
from the son of the Revolution, particularly when one thinks of the excessive 
greed, envy, and inefficiency, only matched by self-conceit, displayed by that 
peculiarly unpleasant set of people. No ; what was really unbearable and inex- 
cusable was the way in which, as demonstrated almost ad nauseam by the facts, 
Napoleon persisted obstinately and for years in trying to build up his Grand 
Empite from such impossible material, and how he allowed his own position and 
the position of France, French property, and French blood to be jeopardized 
through their caprices, self-seeking, and folly. Was it not after all Arthur-Levy’s 
view which Masson used to undermine Taine’s theory and destroy what was left 
of it? Far from being inhuman, the Emperor was only too human. But what is 
left of the statesman or of the sense of responsibility for the French people? 

That spectacle did not shock Masson, however. What upset him was the base- 
ness of -the family, and later, in adversity, its ingratitude. In its activities he saw 
one of the main causes of the downfall. But his faith remains unshaken. One 
wonders how it was possible for a man who was at that very moment engaged 
in describing the family relationships of Napoleon to call for a Dictator to fight 
corruption. If it is a question of ‘fatted pigs’, Napoleon’s brothers and sisters had 
the advantage of the parliamentarians. But for Masson Napoleon remains great 
and wise. Mistakes, weaknesses, what do they matter? ‘The most astonishing 
exemplar of humanity’; ‘truly a human prodigy’; ‘this man who, with all the 
humanity he bears, with all the execration heaped upon him, all the apotheoses 
that put a finish to his ascent, is the most admirable specimen of the human race ’ .* 

Hence that devotion and that tenacious zeal to find out every scrap of infor- 
mation about Napoleon, hence that conviction that the tiniest fact is of historical 
importance. If it be retorted that what interests us is not Napoleon the man but 
Napoleon the statesman, the writer has yet another line on which to defend his 
life’s work. 

It is time [he writes] to cease at last from making this senseless distinction between 
the public man, whom history may claim, and the private person, in whom she 
has no right. There is only the human being ; a person’s character is indivisible, like 
his nature. As soon as a man has played a historic part, he belongs to history. 
History lays her hand upon him wherever she happens to come across him, for 
there is no fact in his existence, however petty, no insignificant utterance of his 
sentiments, no microscopic detail of his personal habits, which may not serve to 
make him better known. I am sorry for him if he has any vices, or abnormal 

i. Napoleon et sa famille. Introductions to volumes v (1902) and xii (1918). 



inclination, or ugly sides to his nature, for history will tell; and also if he squints or 
is crippled, she will tell. She will collect his words, even those murmured in love; 

. . she wii questionhis mistress as well as his physician, his valet, and his confessor 
If she is lucky enough to get hold of his cashbook, she will peruse it carefully and 
relate how his services were paid, how he enriched and ruined himself, wl ™t 
fortune he left behind him. She will lift his winding sheet to see what illness he 
died of and what was his last emotion when confronted with eternity. From the 
day he attempted to play a part in history, he delivered lumself up to her 

This is how history shall be, no longer either political or anecdotal, but human; 
no longer a chronological arrangement of dates and words, of names and facts, but 
mmetMng which wiS remind you of life itselfi which gives off a smdl of flesh and 
bone, the sounds of love and cries of pain, in which the passions play their part and 
&om which may at last emerge the lineaments of men whom we can greet as 

br ma r t,‘ shall poetry be allowed to appropriate the right to express aU die passions 
of humanity, Lma to show them on the stage, fiction to reproduce them from 
the imagination; and shall history, condemned to wear for ever the harness of a 
false modesty and an assumed dignity, strangled l in the swaddling clothes m which 
the traditions of a monarchical historiography have wrapped her up - obliged, if 
she wall not be regarded as fiivolous and incur the strictures of the sticklers for 
deportment and the Philmintes, to keep within pohte generalities and to speak 
about human beings as she would about heavenly bodies - shall history, which 
records mankind, only be allowed by dint of dexterous circumlocutions and of 
kindly suppressions to suggest, in noble phrases, that this same mankind has known 
passion, love, and sin? Political actions which had none but political motives - they 
do occur; but how rarely I 1 

I could make this already lengthy quotation still longer, but this will be enough 
to showthat Masson has his theory ofhistory. It is a very one-sided theory as I 
hardly need point out. The individual is certainly important in history, and it is 
pl-Jnf to come across so lively an expression of this truth at a time when mech- 
anistic ideas were to the fore. Nevertheless, it is the historian s task to deal with 
the individual in relation to the community. Furthermore, his task is a very 
different one from that of the novelist. Though the historian cannot do without 
imagination, he remains tied to the event, to data, to testimonies, and he lacks 
the omniscience which enables the poet to plumb Ms characters to the most 
secret places of their hearts. Fortunately Masson is too much of a real historian 
to let his imagination run away with him, and his work is in no way a collection 
of V ies rotnancees. Happily also, in spite of this profession of faith, he has an eye for 
the true connexions with what is historically important. But even so his exag- 
gerated interest in the personal side, as we shall see, does constitute the weakness 
of what is in many respects an excellent study, 
i. Introduction to volume v. 


I shall confine myself for the most part to a discussion of Masson’s main work on 
Napoleon and his relatives. I would gladly say something about his NapoUon 
chez lui (1894), in which the Emperor’s court and his daily life are minutely 
described. Here you can learn how he shaved himself, what paper he used for his 
letters; no detail is too insignificant for Masson, but he also discusses in a most 
interesting way the importance attached by Napoleon to etiquette, the reasons 
which led him to take costumes and titles from the days of Charlemagne, and 
many other matters. I must, however, limit myself to the discussion of another 
early work, Napoleon inconnu , and leave on one side not only Napoleon chez lui 
but a whole shelf-ful of others, about Napoleon and women, the divorce, St 
Helena, and many others which cannot be listed here. Many of these books 
appeared while the thirteen volumes of the main work were being written. 

The two fat volumes of Napoleon inconnu which appeared in 1895 contained 
hitherto unpublished papers dating back to Napoleon’s youth and by him en- 
trusted to his uncle Cardinal Fesch. The papers consist of manuscripts and drafts 
of treaties, many referring to the Corsican party strife in which the Bonapartes 
enthusiastically participated in the early nineties of the eighteenth century. Then 
there are notes on books he was reading, one copybook after another, mostly 
from the years when he was garrisoned at Valence and at Auxonne. One un- 
finished extract from a geographical treatise has become famous: it breaks off 
with the words: ‘Sainte-Helene, petite lie . . The historical importance of the 
whole collection is that it gives some idea of Napoleon’s intellectual develop- 
ment. Masson’s comment is interesting. 

The young Napoleon, he says, 1 was heart and soul a Corsican, the more 
ardently because he was living in France. In the military academy he felt himself 
foreign, different, at a disadvantage with the French-bom youths. He formed for 
himself a visionary picture of Corsica as a community where the ideals of 
simplicity and civic virtue, of equality in poverty and nobility of soul, were 
carried into effect. How beautifully this all fitted in with the theories of Rousseau ! 
His mind filled with Rousseau’s eloquent words, he imagined that he was called 
to save Corsica from the oppressive and corrupt French domination. But when 
as a young lieutenant he returned to the island during the Revolution and learned 
to know reality, when he failed to make himself heard in the midst of the furious 
strife between groups and family connexions, and finally suffered defeat, a 
complete change took place in his mind. ‘Just as France had made him a Corsican, 
so Corsica made him a Frenchman.’ Other factors, too, were at work. The 

I. Napoleon inconnu, II, 500. 



Revolution opened new possibilities for him in France - much greater possibil- 
ities than he could have found in Corsica, which in any case was now closed to 
him. Military honour and a dislike of British interference in French affairs also 
had their influence. At the same time there was another change. He turned away 
from Rousseau. Even lus style shows the effect. The sweeping sentence of 
Rousseau the theorist, the ideologist, ill became a realist, a man of action. That 
sweeping sentence, which can be observed in the youthful political writings of 
Bonaparte ‘is now broken, splintered, narrowed, dried, hardened, like steel*. He 
continues to command Rousseau’s flourish, and is able to use it to express 
emotion. But for daily use he has found the style which will serve him throughout 
Ills life-Le Souper de Beaucaire at the end of lus youth shows it. 

As to the contents, the books read so thoroughly by the young lieutenant make 
an extraordinary collection. Masson finds in them the whole of Napoleon. 

No literature; no classical reminiscences whatever; not a word of Latin ... no 
strivmg after rhythm. No poetry ... no novels . . . But on the other hand history 
and again history. History is his teacher, who supplies him with his arguments, 
who moulds his outlook and his philosophy, who from the beginning stamps him 
as a statesman. 

The origins of his military genius will not he found here, but for the rest, once 
more, ‘ as far as outlook on life and politics are concerned, the whole of Napoleon 
is m those youthful notes’. 1 

He read and made extracts from the memoirs of Baron de Tott on the Turks 
and Tatars (1784), and from the history of the Venetian Government by Amelot 
de Houssaie (1740). He made extracts from the chapters on Persia, Greece, 
Egypt, and Carthage in the Histoire Ancienne of Rollin, and from the Histoire des 
Arahes by 1 ’abbe de Marigny (1750), also from the Histoire philosophique et 
politique des etahlissements et du commerce des Europeens dans les deux Indes. From 
tliis famous book of Fabbede Raynal he extracts not only the ‘ philosophical ’ and 
political views, but all kinds of facts about the country and the peoples of Egypt 
and India. From the Swiss travel book of William Coxe he took pages and pages 
of notes, mostly on history and political institutions. 

Everyone will be struck by the choice of subjects - Egypt, Turkey, the East. 
Now one understands, too, how it was that the young general knew the weak 
spots in the Venetian state machine, and that the First Consul could intervene 
with such assurance in the constitutional quarrels of Switzerland. In Year VIII 
he immediately showed himself well primed for constitution making, and here 
from this old chest comes a complete ‘Constitution de la Calotte*, consisting of 
extremely detailed and carefully worked out statutes for the subalterns* associa- 

I. Masson’s conclusion is quite untenable: see pp. 172, 352 f£, 378 below. 



tion of his regiment, drafted by Lieutenant Bonaparte in 1788 when he was not 
yet twenty. 

There is also an extremely long extract devoted to the history of Britain, at 
least eighty printed pages. The author used is a certain John Barrow. A history of 
Frederick the Great is not lacking. 

On one subject which was going to be of incalculable importance in the 
career of the ruler of France, the young man is seen to have already formed his 
ideas; that is, on the question of the relationship between Church and State. 
Among the notes are extracts from the Histoire de la Sorbonne by 1 ’abbe Duvemet 
(1790), from Voltaire’s Essai sur les mceurs, and from V esprit de Gerson , a work 
dating from 1691, in which, under the name of the fifteenth-century ecclesiastic 
of the University of Paris who had suggested royal intervention and a General 
Council as means to put a stop to the scandal of the papal schism, all the arguments 
were assembled in support of the Gallican conception, that is to say in support of 
the independence of the French Church from Rome and of the obligation of the 
French ruler to protect this independence. In 1791 Bonaparte noted down a 
number of conclusions from that book; that the Council is above the Pope, that 
temporal princes may call Councils, and that these do not need papal confirma- 
tion before they are valid; also that the Pope cannot touch the temporal power 
of princes, and that Gregory VII and Boniface VIII were guilty of flagrant 
abuse of their powers. The history of the Sorbonne is remarkable for its abuse of 
monks. From Voltaire, Bonaparte extracted details concerning Constantine, 
Charlemagne, and the decretals of Isidore. All this is most striking. It seems 
indeed possible to detect here the directives which were to govern the develop- 
ment of this man’s mind to the last. 

Masson, who shows all this very pointedly, is at the same time delighted. The 
later Napoleon, he says, 

is anti-clerical, which does not imply that he is anti-religious. This Gallican doctrine, 
which was that of France as long as France was great, apart from which there was 
no salvation for sovereigns or nations, which alone could render religion acceptable 
because it resisted the abuse of power by the regulars, because it rejected ultramon- 
tane superstition, and preserved the humanity of God - had he not come to under- 
stand the greatness of this doctrine through his reading at Auxonne? In his early 
youth he was more radical, and wished to ban the Christian religion. Later he 
believed that the priests could be restrained and to a certain extent be made the 
gendarmes of the conscience ... At least he never tolerated that the head of the 
Church should arrogate to himself any power in France, and hardly bore with his 
spiritual influence. These good principles he owed to the reading of his youth. 

Masson, younger friend of Prince Napoleon, did not try to conceal the revolu- 
tionary tendencies of his Bonapartism. He had no sympathy with Christianity. 


He thought the Church 4 unmanly’, and somewhat ridiculous when it trespassed 
outside its own ground. But how differently can what he brought to light con- 
cerning the intellectual beginnings of Napoleon be appreciated I 

I cannot refrain from quoting here another French writer, though he cannot 
really be included among the ‘admirers’ dealt with in this section. Geoffroy de 
Grandmaison, whose principal work was a study of Napoleon and Spain, as a 
fervent Catholic struck an obstinately dissonant note in the chorus of praise 
prevalent in his day. In an essay entitled La formation intellectuelle de Napoleon he 
discussed Masson’s publication appreciatively and gratefully. But he is not nearly 
so enthusiastic as Masson over what is revealed to us of Napoleon’s youthful 
studies. The young man worked hard and methodically, but look at the authors 
he used ! 

A collection of writers well below the average, full of paradoxes in the eighteenth- 
century manner. His historical education was waiped for ever. 1 

Philosophy represented by Rousseau, religion by Raynal, and history by Mably 
. , . And this Barrow, from whom he gets his knowledge of Britain, what anti- 
papist twaddle the man talks. Note that Bonaparte seems very impressed by the 
slanderous page on St Thomas a Becket. Mably, whom he read on French 
history, is even worse. ‘An empty rhetorician, and almost publicly a deserter from 
the Church.’ And then there is Duvemet, the historian of the Sorbonne, a 
mercenary scribbler, a hanger-on of Voltaire, who presumed, to the indignation 
of the whole circle, to write the master’s life, a man who tried to turn a penny 
by making cheap fun of religion. 

‘Napoleon’, says Masson at the end of his book, ‘is twenty-four years old, and 
liis intellectual education may be regarded as ended.’ To de Grandmaison this is a 
horrifying thought. 

The gravest problem which he later had to solve was that of the restoration of the 
Catholic Church in France. He solved it, alas, with good intentions I am ready to 
believe, with sincerity I hope, but with what profound ignorance of the Church’s 
dogmas, history, and discipline. What! without knowing or having retained a 
word of the catechism, his mind stuffed with the stupidities of a literary hack hke 
D uvernet, of a phrase-maker hke Mably, of a protestant compiler like the unknown 
Barrow, and (here at last we can mention a man of some parts) with the views of 
Gerson, who on the very point where Bonaparte sought his guidance had been 
condemned by the Church his Mother - such is the way in which the future restorer 
of worship in France prepared his mind. 

A non-Catholic will not entirely agree with de Grandmaison’s judgements, 
but it was nevertheless worth while to point out not only the direction but also 
the contents of part of Napoleon’s youthful reading - part only, since the notes 

I. Napoleon et ses recents historiens (1896), p. 23. 



published by Masson do not actually give the complete picture. Napoleon also 
read, both as a young man and later, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Corneille, 
Plutarch . . . 


Let us come now to the thirteen volumes of NapoUon et sa fatnille. 

Napoleon had a mother, 1 an uncle, 2 four brothers^ and three sisters. 4 In 
addition Josephine had two children 5 from her first marriage. There were nephews 
and nieces, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law with their families. It was a motley 
crowd. The Corsican origins were humble. But from the first Napoleon Bona- 
parte carried the whole retinue along with him in his dizzying ascent. Even while 
Ins life was still a struggle, he spared himself no trouble to help his brothers. 
When he became commander-in-chief in Italy, the others shared his greatness as 
a matter of course. Without i Napoleone\ Joseph would never have become 
ambassador in Rome, nor would Lucien have achieved a seat in the Five Hun- 
dred. From the point of view of later years, the sisters’ marriages did not seem 
very brilliant, but they were at any rate above the Corsican level, and it was 
already prosperity, riches, for everyone, in that time of shifting relationships of 
the later phases of the Revolution. In 1798, while Napoleon was still in Egypt, 
Joseph purchased that splendid estate of Mortefontaine in the vicinity of Paris 
where he was to keep open house as grand seigneur throughout the period, the 
equal even then of the leading politicians of the Republic, the protector of 
writers and intellectuals. 

After the 18th Brumaire, to the success of which Lucien, young as he was, had 
greatly contributed in his capacity as President of the Five Hundred (this was 
practically the only instance in which a member of the family furthered Napol- 
eon’s career), Joseph became a senator and diplomat; Lucien, with whom, 
however, there was soon a split, became a minister ; Louis, without having served 
at all, became a brigadier-general. Jerome, at this time still too young, was to 
have an equally meteoric career in the navy. A most surprising advancement 
began for uncle Fesch - he was only a few years older than his nephew Napoleon. 
As a young priest, Fesch had taken the oath to the Constitution civile but had soon 
so to speak forgotten the Church. He had made a fortune as purveyor to the 
army and in speculations, and for ten years had lived a completely worldly life. 

r. Letitia, 1750-1836. 

2. Fesch, half brother of Letitia, 1763-1839. 

3. Joseph, 1768-1844; Lucien, 1775-1840; Louis, 1778-1846; J<?r6me, 1784-1860. 

4. Elisa, 1777-1820; Pauline, 1780-1825; Caroline, 1792-1839. 

5. Eugene and Hortense de Beauharnais, 1781-1824 and 1783-1837. 



After the Concordat, the First Consul made him Archbishop of Lyons and put 
his name on a short list of prelates for whom he demanded cardinals’ hats from 
the Pope. Cardinal Fesch now became the obvious instrument of his ecclesiastical 
policy - though the clerical member of the family, strangely enough, developed 
clerical tendencies, if not spiritual ones, which Napoleon sometimes found tire- 
some. I mentioned an instance of this in connexion with the Imperial catechism. 
As chairman of the Council in 1811, too, Fesch was not merely submissive and 

For the brothers and sisters, or most of them, real greatness only came with 
the Empire, and at the same time some knotty problems arose. At once there was 
the question: how about the succession? The matter was all the more important, 
since Josephine was bearing no children to Napoleon. 

THE succession: claims 

For Masson, the Empire is an acceptable culmination of the Revolution. The 
people saw its own sovereignty embodied in the Emperor - this conception 
(winch, as will be remembered, was also that of Thiers) is dear to the heart of 
Masson. But the hereditary succession, in particular as it was arranged with 
recognition of the brothers, seems to him reactionary. Indeed this idea made a 
particular appeal to the ‘rallied’ royalists, who in their hearts were not weaned 
from the ancien legime. With them Joseph intrigued merrily. In the end Napoleon 
gave in, conquered (such is the explanation offered by Masson) by his Corsican 
atavism, by that idea of the family with which lie had been imbued as a child on 
his island; and Joseph and Louis (Luden and Jerome both being out of favour, 
owing to unsuitable marriages) were recognized as successors to the Emperor, 
falling a male successor in the direct line. Nevertheless Napoleon did not entirely 
divest himself of the true Revolutionary or, if one prefers, the strong, unsenti- 
mental, political, Roman conception, and left himself the possibility of adoption 
over the heads of his brothers, although his choice was to be restricted to their 
sons or grandsons. 

This infringement of his claims roused the bitter indignation of Joseph. Dis- 
appointment one might have understood, but it was indignation he felt. Nothing 
is more remarkable than the ease with which the Bonapartes accustomed them- 
selves to their grand position. I spoke just now of a dizzying ascent, but they did 
not in the least suffer from vertigo. They seemed never to realize that without 
their brother’s genius they were nothing. Napoleon was sometimes capable of 
reminding them, bluntly and angrily. For instance, when Joseph tried to enforce 
his ‘rights’ by threatening to stay away from the imperial coronation, and 
attacked Napoleon in his most tender spot, his jealous sense of power. 



Power is my mistress Pie growled] and Joseph has been trying to flirt with her. 

‘If you stay away, you are my enemy,’ he said to Joseph, * and where is the army 
you can bring against me? You lack everything, and if it comes to that I shall 
destroy you.’ 1 Joseph submitted, but how many times had Napoleon given in, 
and how often would he do so again, to his unreasoning weakness for his family - 
call it a Corsican trait or not. With regard to Jerome, because he was the youngest, 
with regard to Joseph because he was the eldest (Masson lays great stress on the 
respect he felt, in spite of himself, for the rights of the eldest son), with regard 
to his sisters because Pauline was attractive andElisa tenacious, or because Caroline 
was an intriguer and did not shrink from scenes. 

What a picture, that family dinner, 2 a few months before the coronation, 
when Napoleon was present for the first time as Emperor and Joseph and Louis, 
with their wives, as Imperial Highnesses. Not only were they and the Emperor’s 
mother affronted by the fact that Josephine, as the Emperor’s wife, took prede- 
dence of them, but the sisters - Elisa married to the nobody Bacciochi, and 
Caroline married to the dashing cavalry general Murat - were incensed because 
they had not been given titles. There were angry faces, tears, and even in the end 
a fainting-fit. There were excited recriminations. Napoleon worked himself up 
into a rage. It was then that he made that magnificent remark: ‘They talk as if 
I had robbed them of their share of the late King our father’s patrimony 1 * But 
he gave in. The ladies got their titles. 

And they got more than titles. Madame Mere had written a threatening letter 
demanding a title also, and when she was allowed to call herself Madame Mere 
was not in the least satisfied, although Imperial Highness was tacked on to it: it 
should have been Empress-Mother and Majesty. (But then, they were none of 
them ever for one moment contented.) In any case, Madame Mere , who was 
notorious for her rapacity, had her monthly income of ten thousand francs 
rapidly increased, after repeated complaints and blackmail, to forty thousand 
francs, not counting a single grant of six hundred thousand; and I refrain from 
reporting other instances of largess. 

As early as 1805 £lisa became duchess of the miniature state of Piombino, to 
which Lucca was soon added. She ruled (for her husband Felix I only carried 
the title) with much pomp and circumstance and also with devouring ambition 
and zeal. As Masson frequently remarks, of the whole fannly she most nearly 
resembled her great brother, a fact which though it inspired a certain esteem, did 
not make him feel any affection for her such as he did feel first for Louis, later for 
Jerdme, and for the third sister the pretty, frivolous, and non-political Pauline. 

1. II, 448, 457 - 

2 . Masson takes this (though he does not say so, as he unfortunately leaves out all 
references, see below, p. 192, note) from the memoirs of Mme de Remusat. 



Elisa fought the ‘fanatical ’ priesthood - ‘only base spirits allow themselves to be 
frightened by that foolish yelling’. 1 She stirred up trouble against her Spanish 
neighbour, the Bourbon Queen of Etruria, that is of Tuscany (another Napo- 
leonic creation), whom Napoleon in the end dethroned, not for ^Elisa’s benefit 
but in order to incorporate her country in the Empire; Jalisa was given only the 

In 1806 Murat became Grand Duke of Berg, a frontier region made up of 
territories just handed over to Napoleon by Prussia and Bavaria, against com- 
pensation elsewhere. It embraced Wesel, Diisseldorf, and Cl&ves. Caroline and 
he were not satisfied - who would expect anything else of them ! He was at once 
looking round for adjacent land to lay hands upon, and seemed to have nothing 
against a war with Prussia for that purpose - it was a question of a few abbeys 
and the territory of Mark. At that moment Napoleon was anxious to humour 
Prussia, but naturally tins fresh trouble on her western frontier was making her 
even more suspicious and irritable than she already was mclined to be - suspicious 
and irritable, that is, about Napoleon. For while Murat was writing to Talley- 
rand (still Minister of Foreign Affairs) concerning the necessity of finally disposing 
of untrustworthy Prussia, treacherous as he was, and like Caroline full of envy of 
Napoleon, he sent a honeyed letter to the King of Prussia all about the latter’s 
exemplary love of peace and how the policy he had pursued since 1795 had 
earned his country much more lasting benefit than the eternal, unappeasable 
war fever and land hunger of . . . others. 2 


Piombino-Lucca; Berg, even when it was doubled in size; these were only 
trifles. They were only parts of a tremendous expansion of the Napoleonic 
system, of a Napoleonic reconstruction of Europe. At the end of 1805 what the 
First Consul had threatened Britain with had in fact happened. Napoleon had 
sallied forth, and by his victory at Austerlitz had laid the basis of a Western 
Empire. The Austrian ruler gave up his German imperial title, which had become 
a mockery, and in 1806 Napoleon not only created his Confederation of the 
Rhine from among the German princes, who kotowed to him, but he made 
Joseph King of Naples and Louis King of Holland. In 1807, after the downfall 
of Prussia and after Alexander had temporarily given up the struggle at Tilsit, 
Jer6me (relieved of his first wife, an American, and married to a Wurttemberg 
prmcess) was provided with a kingdom made up of portions of Prussia to the 

1. nr, 217. 

2. nr, 290 ff. He spoils the effect of this flattery by addressing the King as * monjrhe 
his grand-ducal quality gave him no right to do this. 



west of the Elbe, Hanover, and Hesse, and called Westphalia, It was unfortunate 
that Lucien continued obstinately to stick to his wife, in spite of year-long 
attempts to detach her from him with an eye to other combinations, a campaign 
in which the cardinal uncle assisted, only to receive a severe snub from the faithful 
husband . 1 It was also much to be regretted that Joseph and Louis were no longer 
free to marry princesses. Napoleon saw a way, nevertheless, of attaching Bavaria 
to himself by a marriage; the husband was his stepson Eugene, the Viceroy of 
Italy, whom he had adopted, though without giving him any prospect of the 
French succession. He also secured Baden by adopting a niece of Josephine’s, 
Stephanie de Beauhamais, and marrying her off to the heir of the Grand duke 
of that German frontier state. Le GrandEmpire hadbeen created. A Family Statute, 
giving special rights to the Emperor in respect of all imperial princes and prin- 
cesses, was to consolidate his hold on his vassals. And vassals they indeed were, 
these kings of lhs blood. They retained their positions as high dignitaries in 
France; Joseph, for example, was Grand Electeur. They remained French subjects, 
and the Emperor, who was to have so many disappointing experiences with them, 
imagined that their descendants would accept this position for ever. 

One feels amazed at this conception. What is astonishing is that it comes from 
a man who was proud of his position as Emperor by the will of the French 
people, from a man who desired to be modern to his fingertips and who was 
accustomed to speak with contempt of the mummery of the old order in 
countries which had not been touched by the Revolution, from the man of 
order, reason, and enlightenment. Masson, who is keenly alive to this violation 
of revolutionary principles and is certainly not inclined, like Arthur-Iivy, 
either to gloss over it or to wrap it up in sentimentalities, always adduces the 
explanation that Napoleon was the slave of feelings brought with him from 
Corsica. But this contradiction permeates the whole figure of Napoleon, even 
where there is no question of an obsessive family sense. However proudly he 
might declare himself to be Emperor by the will of the French people, he still 
believed that these marriages with the old dynasties must be used to consolidate 
Iiis position, and it was strange that to the last he attached so much importance to 
the papal consecration, for the same reason. The upshot showed how little all this 
was worth. He lived to see the same bishops who had bowed to him as the Lord’s 
anointed address Louis XVm in language no less submissive, no less flowery, 

I. ‘Vous avez done oubli£ I’honneur et la religion. Ayez au moms assez de bon sens 
pour ne pas m’assimiler a Jerome, et pour m’epargner la honte inutile de vos laches 
conseils. En un mot, cessez de m’^crire jusqu’a ce que la religion, 1 ’honneur que vous 
foulez aux pieds, aient dissipe votre aveuglement . . . Cachez au moins sous votre pourpre 
la bassesse de vos sentiments, et faites votre cbemin en silence dans la grande route de 
l’ambition.’ 6 October 1806; iv, 34. 



while m 1813 not only did he appear to have overlooked the nations, but the 
rulers themselves left lum in the lurch. 

The link between these elements in Napoleons mind is not to be found in 
Corsica. The fact of the matter is that though he was never unfaithful to the 
Revolution in some of its aspects, he was in other respects led into complete 
reaction by his profound suspicion of human nature and of the force of reason, 
egged on by counter-revolutionary forces of which he imagined he was in 
control. His policy shows a recrudescence of conceptions and conditions which 
the Revolution had by no means destroyed in the minds of men, and which 
indeed were still flourishing in the rest of Europe. It was really not in Corsica 
only that the family sense was strong under the ancien regime . 1 The zeal of the 
‘rallied’ royalists for the undiluted principle of heredity was typical; no less was 
the promptitude with which Europe accepted not only Napoleon’s royal state - 
his genius broke through all barriers - but the royal state of his relations. Even 
after the Emperor’s fall tills royal quality continued to envelop them in the eyes 
of the conquerors. It is true that by then they were m various ways related by 
marriage to the old royal houses. If that tipped the scale, it only proves once 
again how seriously the bonds of family were taken in the international circle of 

Nevertheless, it remains astonishing that the great man should not himself 
have perceived how little could be achieved with the unsuitable instruments 
provided him by his family. Of this unsuitability, resulting not only from in- 
capacity but from frivolous conceit and unteachable intractability, Masson gives 
a compelling picture. 


How was it possible, one wonders, that Napoleon could bring himself to place 
Joseph in Naples in 1806, after all that he had had to put up with from him? It 
is not only a question of the arrogant demands which he had so sharply refused 
in 1804. It is mainly that he could not possibly have held his eldest brother’s 
capacities in high esteem. Joseph too has his legend. In this he is contrasted with 
his brother on account of his hberal ideas, of his gentle methods, and of his respect 
for the things of the mind. No doubt he was a well-meaning man. Mme de 
Stael had a high opinion of him, and for his part he tried to compose the feud 
between her and his brother. In 1803 it was well known that he favoured peace. 
As king he found nothing more pleasant than giving - at the expense of his 

1. This comment, taken from Driault, was made by Dr J. Presser in his excellent 
article, ‘The Bonaparte family in modem literature’, Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis , 1941, 

p. 156. 



subjects - and forgiving, out of a helpless desire for popularity. He bad long been 
surrounded by a circle of admirers, who now came to share in Ins royal fortunes. 
A certain spirit of opposition to Napoleon and his ruthless power policy reigned 
among them, and afterwards they still celebrated the wisdom and moderation of 
Joseph m their memoirs. As we have seen, those of Miot de Mchto made a special 

Masson set out to probe Joseph thoroughly, and so indirectly to exonerate 
Napoleon. Apart from the fact that this was his intention, it must be remembered 
that he had from the start a prejudice against the liberal spnit. Nevertheless, 
although later on I shall have an opportunity for casting a somewhat more 
favourable light upon Joseph, Masson’s presentation of him has an unmistakable 
touch of life about it. He contrasts his fine phrases with the way he profited from 
Ins position, the way he basked in his royal glory, his self-satisfied belief in a 
world created to make him rich and powerful. The contrast is undeniably 
damaging to the character of the man. Shocking as may be the coarse cynicism 
with which Napoleon was wont to mb in the fact that all Joseph’s glory was but 
a reflection of Ins own, that his throne was shored up not by amiable intentions 
or dreams of mutual esteem and trust between people and ruler, but simply by 
the Emperor’s power and the blood of French soldiers, Joseph’s blindness did 
nothing to remedy these unpleasant truths. He emerges from Masson’s sketch, 
pleasant and endowed with a certain talent for representation, hut pompous and 
superficial, talkative and lazy. 

Once again it strikes us as astonishing that Napoleon, who could so sharply 
upbraid him m his letters, can have imagined for one moment that this man, so 
completely untried, could dominate, pacify, and reform a newly conquered 
country whose banished king was still in Sicily under the protection of the 
British. Joseph was delighted with the expressions of loyalty showered on him 
when he arrived by lazzaroni and nobles alike. He devoted himself to the resus- 
citation of the theatre, and wrote long and detailed letters concerning the coat of 
arms he wished to possess and the orders he wished to found. But he left the 
French troops to deal with the war against the still active guerrillas, whom the 
British kept going with a landing here and there and with money and arms. Nor 
was this slackness, combined as it was with an unbelievable complacency, the 
worst. Like Louis in Holland, he took his kingly position extremely seriously. 
That is to say, in spite of the Family Statute and the duty encumbent upon him to 
remain a Frenchman, in spite, one might say, of the hard realities which tied him 
hand and foot to his powerful brother, in a spirit of extreme emulation he 
insisted upon his independence. He thought he ought to take into account 
Neapolitan sensitiveness in the first place, lest his popularity should suffer, and 
even taught the Frenchmen who held important posts in his court and 



government (a phenomenon unknown in Holland under Louis) to side with 
him rather than with the Emperor. 

Naples, says Masson, became a well into which was poured French gold and 
French blood; if the peace with Britain which seemed possible in 1806 after the 
death of Pitt failed to materialize, it was owing to the claims winch Napoleon 
made upon Sicily on Joseph’s behalf. There is no need to assume that the decisive 
motive in this was brotherly love. In his utterances at any rate, Napoleon con- 
tinued to make the sharpest distinction between private feelings and public 
interest. At the same time it is undeniable that by placing a member of his family 
in Naples he had pawned his prestige and limited his freedom of action. Tins was 
in any case a direct result of this system of governing through Ins brothers, which, 
where it was carried on, threatened to demoralize French officials and even high 
French military officers. Napoleon no longer always got the truth. Those who 
cherished their careers were chary of acting contrary to the wishes or views of 
the Emperor’s brother. Many placed their hopes upon their immediate protector 
and were only conditionally loyal to Napoleon. 

We have seen (p. 62) how much Thiers admired the statesmanlike qualities of 
Napoleon’s letters to his brothers. In those to Joseph, it is true, one can 
see him sweeping away the web of illusions. ‘What love,’ he asked him, 1 ‘do 
you suppose a people can have for you when you have done nothing to deserve 
it?’ (Joseph had actually told a deputation from the French Senate that he was 
regarded by the Neapolitans in the same way that the Emperor was regarded 
by the French . , .) 

You are among them by right of conquest [Napoleon continued] supported by 
forty to fifty thousand foreigners ... As for me, I certainly do not need a foreign 
army to maintain myself in Paris. I observe to my sorrow that you are creating 
illusions for yourself, a dangerous occupation. 

If one remembers how coolly Napoleon wished his brother a little local trouble 
in order that he might establish his authority, one is inclined to ask whether an 
attempt to build up a European domination on a basis of naked force could be 
called wise, and whether the idea that the truth could be hidden behind a show of 
fraternal royalty was not also a form of illusion. Even to throw away such 
wisdom as that contained in the letter previously quoted (p. 62) on so worthless 
a lad as Jerome was in the end nothing else. 


Jerome, who became King of Westphalia in 1807, was a spoiled youngster of 
1. hi , 254. 



twenty-four who had given proof of nothing save utter frivolity and instability 
of character. He had sworn solemn oaths to his American wife, but had never- 
theless allowed himself to be robbed of her and of their unborn child. In the 
navy he had proved good for nothing ; but when (after his marital adventure) he 
was sent on an expedition, with the strictest instructions to the commander to 
treat him as an ordinary subordinate, he could write quite freely about ‘my 
squadron ’, just as even before he became king he could write to his brother 
Lucien, the frondeur of the family, about ‘notre tnaison et celk des Bourbons *. The 
following year he was commandmg a German army corps in the campaign in 
east Germany, followed by a string of wagons, containing the most improbable 
luxuries, and a staff of flatterers and yes-men who pandered to his vanity. He 
made mistake after mistake, and his offences against army discipline were legion. 
What was the advantage of making Jerome a king? 

In a sense, nevertheless, it was from him that Napoleon received the greatest 
satisfaction. He too had begun with attacks of independence, and believed from 
time to time that his subjects worshipped him. Like Joseph, he had at first wanted 
lus French officials to take the oath of allegiance to him. The idea of identification 
with ‘his people’ was very fine, but meant nothing save in the case of Louis, 
whom Masson persists in regarding as a neuropath and whose strangeness he 
certainly exaggerates. In Jerome’s case at any rate the inclination to maintain his 
independence against the brother who had made him king did not last long. The 
French officials and generals reformed, drilled, and made demands precisely as 
the Emperor instructed them, and Jer6me used his independence on the theatre, 
amusements, women, and building, none of it serious work, though as it cost a 
lot of money it hampered the work of others. 

As for Napoleon, he would sometimes send him extremely curt admonitions, 
but at other times - carried away by his tenderness for the Benjamin who was so 
skilful in flattering him - he could not refrain from writing such a postscript as 
the following: ‘Friend, I love you well, but you are outrageously young.* 1 
Arthur-Levy might exclaim about this being so human or so charming, but 
whatever one may call it, it is certainly far from wise. 


The problem becomes still more puzzling when after two years* experience of 
this wretched system the Spanish Bourbons are removed from the throne and 
Napoleon proceeds to extend it. He begins by offering the Spanish throne to 
Louis, though this brother had opposed him most emphatically of all, and as 


Masson expresses it ‘had become popular in Holland by making all the nation’s 
grievances his own’. 1 * Louis haughtily refused to be transferred or promoted like 
any official; he was a king, and knew only one loyalty. Joseph was not so par- 
ticular. But what a choice ! Napoleon’s experiences with him had been no less 
unfortunate. And indeed, though he had allowed himself to be transferred, 
though he now had a new public for his performance, a new language, new 
historic formulas (the Catholic King, t yo el rey ’), he once more began to go his 
own kingly way quite undeterred, until, when the tragic complications of the 
Spanish adventure became apparent, he showed himself ever more helpless, 
bewildered, and useless. And in Joseph’s place, Murat with his Caroline now 
came to Naples. This coxcomb, as will be remembered (see p. 93), had prepared 
matters in Spain, as he fondly believed, for himself. His reports that the Spanish 
people would be delighted to receive a king from Napoleon had obscured the 
latter’s view of the situation (Masson stresses this side of the case, without of 
course mentioning the forged letter - see p. 94 ffi). Now, egged on by his pas- 
sionately ambitious wife, he was cut to the quick that he was * only given Naples’. 

I have called all this puzzling. Masson too asks himself, in a different connexion, 
how it was to be explained. 

Only Pie says] by assuming Napoleon not only to have been possessed with a blind 
tenderness for this brother [Jerome] but to have been suffering from a kind of 
intoxication of family feeling which caused him to judge all those nearest to him by 
his own measure. Just as Joseph is destined to conduct negotiations and Lucien to 
preside over Parliaments, so Jerome is to command fleets, as he himself leads 
armies. Disillusioned in respect of one, he clings the more desperately to another. 
Does he ever admit even for a moment that they are not equal to their tasks? No, 
it is their cussedness if they do not succeed. Whatever may have been their training 
or their start in life, it must be sufficient for them to turn their minds to anything 
in order to find within themselves all the abilities which he found. It must be 
sufficient that his name is theirs and that they are of the same blood: he touches 
them with his sceptre as with a magic wand, and they have genius. 3 

This seems more probable than the Corsican theory, until one thinks of Murat. 
Napoleon could not cherish these illusions with regard to him, and yet he used 
him for a position which was not only difficult but held the most dangerous 
temptations for an ambitious and unreliable man . 3 

1. iv, 196. 2. in, 107. 

3. Looking back, Napoleon had no illusions about his brothers* suitability. The 

following extract from the Mimorial could have served as motto for Masson’s book. 
There is no need to add that this view does not exonerate the Emperor from responsibil- 
ity; on the contrary it implies a recognition of his own mistake. [Cont. p. 183. 

1 82 


The whole system of the vassal kings was a mistake. There was an insoluble 
antinomy between the investing of a man with the old historic majesty of king- 
ship, calculated to awaken expectations in his people and ambitions in himself, and 
the insistence that he remain a Frenchman, act upon Napoleon’s slightest hin ts, 
and accept the offensive remarks to which the great man’s impatience so easily 
led him. I would seek the source of this error (and here I am giving my own opin- 
ion, not that of Masson, though his narrative provides all the necessary data) in 
the pride which made it difficult for Napoleon to believe that anyone could set 
himself against his authority, and in his blindness - which again sprang from his 
pride - to the national feelings of nations, particularly of small nations, other than 
the French. Let them be given a good administration and the Code, suppress 
ruthlessly the first revolt, let them feel that they are powerless against the power 
of Napoleon, and they will seek their advantage in the only course left to them, 
surrender and submission. This is how Napoleon argued. The new Europe which 
he was shaping had nothing in common with a federation of nations each trying 
to further its own interests by friendly understanding with the other. Everything 
was to be for the greater glory of himself, or, as he put it, of France. Writers like 
Masson and Arthur-Levy, who accept the identity of Napoleon and France as an 
article of faith, regard this policy of domination as perfectly natural. 

Napoleon [writes the latter] when he took to himself the right to dispose of the 
throne of Spain according to his own good pleasure, was a great deal less concerned 
with that country’s happiness than with the interest of France. 1 

The somewhat mocking tone accords with the writer’s conviction that his French 
readers would find it as foolish as he would if Napoleon had thought differently. 
I shall not now discuss the aims and the pros and cons of Napoleon’s policy of 
conquest. The only pomt which concerns us here is that tins policy being what it 
was, Napoleon should have tried another means for imposing his will on the 
conquered peoples than that so outwardly impressive, so satisfying to his vanity, 
of the vassal kings. 

In 1810 things were going the wrong way in Holland. Louis had been resisting 
Napoleon by leaning upon the independent spirit of a people with a strong 

I. Napoleon intime, p. 254. 

Je n’ai pas eu le bonheur de Gengis-Khan en ses quatre fils qui ne connaissaient 
d’autre rivalite que de le bien servir. M01, nommais-je un roi ? il se croyait aussitdt par la 
gr&ce de dieu. Ce n’etait plus un lieutenant sur lequel je devais me reposer: c’etait un 
ennemi de plus dont je devais m’occuper ... Si, au lieu de cela, chacun d’eux eut impnme 
une impulsion commune aux diverses masses que je leur avais confides, nous eussions 
marche jusqu’aux poles; tout se fut abaissd devant nous; nous eussions change la face du 
monde; l’Europe jouirait d’un systeme nouveau; nous serions bents. . . 



historical consciousness, whose instinct of independence had at the same time 
found support in Louis. Napoleon thought that by breaking his brother he would 
induce the Dutch to throw themselves mto his arms. He broke him, with all the 
cunning, with all the disregard for the rights of others, which he could always 
summon to aid him in a conflict (see p. 63 ff.). Masson, though he emphasizes 
the strangeness and difficult temperament of Louis, nevertheless has to admit that 
the grievances put forward by Napoleon were in part pretexts. Louis was forced 
to a first surrender of territory by a threat to his personal freedom while he was in 
France. The rest was simply occupied, by an army which (as in Spam two years 
before) marched in without giving any explanation, till Louis left the country. 
What an overthrow, what a sensation in Europe, and what a shock for the other 
brothers! Masson, faithful to his system of personal or family explanations, 
connects the insecurity with which the thrones were suddenly threatened with 
Napoleon’s second marriage and his hope of a family of his own. The develop- 
ment proceeds, however, horn the deepest and most fundamental tendencies of 
the Emperor’s power policy. Jer6me was not removed, but he had to shed a 
plume. A piece of his kingdom was taken away, another piece put on. Were these 
men kings? They were governors. How much better would it have suited the 
system had this reality been recognized from the first, and had Napoleon simply 
used officials who could be dismissed and who would obey. 


Joseph in particular continued to be a source of worry. His position was, of 
course, unfortunate. It had all seemed so simple. The king and the heir had 
abdicated. Murat had sent a junta of francophil officials and nobles from Madrid 
to Bayonne, to pay homage to Joseph. With a very incomplete Cortes he had 
discussed and sworn a constitution drawn up under the eye of the Emperor. The 
most difficult problem had been provided by the abdication of the King of 
Naples in favour of Murat, in the arrangement of which Murat and his Caroline 
were beaten down both by Napoleon and by Joseph. At last, full of quiet confi- 
dence, the new king crossed the Bidassoa. News of resistance here and there in the 
provmces had made no impression at Bayonne. Indeed, only a minor French 
victory was needed, and it was soon forthcoming, to allow Joseph to enter his 
capital. However, before he arrived he was entirely disillusioned. 

It is not quite fair of Masson not to refer to the letters written en route by 
Joseph to his brother, in which he warned him, on the grounds of the reception 
he was getting everywhere, that he had been misinformed, that he Joseph, found 
himself entirely without supporters, and so on. He was scarcely a week in Madrid 
when the crushing news reached him that a French army corps under General 



Dupont had capitulated to the rebels at Baylen, a good two hundred kilometres 
south of Madrid. He had to take headlong flight from Madrid, withdrawing 
towards Burgos two hundred kilometres to the north, and from there after a 
while to Vittona, another two hundred kilometres nearer the French frontier. 
Here Napoleon found him m November, when he came to Inis assistance with a 
large French army. There was no other remedy. In his first dismay Joseph had 
wanted to go back to Naples. But was it possible to dispossess Murat and the 
ambitious Caroline of their new territory, when they had already moved there 
from Berg? It was no more possible, of course, than to leave Joseph without a 

So Spam had to be conquered methodically. Dispirited, aware of the fact that 
he was cutting an awkward figure, Joseph trailed behind the French army, and 
was in the end once more able to enter Madrid. Abashed though he felt, he was 
none the less jealous of his royal dignity. Napoleon could laugh about it, and 
about the fine constitution he had himself made, to which Joseph was now 
constantly appealing as though realities had not put it out of date. His position 
was entirely based on the presence of the French armies, who had to fight not 
only the rebels in their remote retreats but also the British forces, in order to 
protect him. Yet, surrounded by francophil, that is, generally speaking, anti- 
clerical ministers, he clung to the illusion that the Spanish people could be won 
over to his side by kindness, by a show of independence with regard to his 
brother, and by social reforms. He issued decrees of the utmost nobility which 
lacked nothing save execution, and meanwhile disputed with the French generals 
and tried to impose his authority on them. 

In the end Napoleon determined on a measure which can be looked upon as a 
preliminary to annexation. Masson compares it with the gradual process carried 
out in Holland, beginning with the annexation of Zeeland and North Brabant. 
By a decree dated 8 February 1810, a considerable section of Joseph’s kingdom 
adjacent to France, that is Catalonia, Arragon, Navarre, and Guipuzcoa, were 
organized in four military governments under completely French administration. 
Joseph, profoundly hurt, spoke of abdicating; there is no doubt that Napoleon 
wished to provoke Joseph to take just this step. France was losing blood rapidly 
from the Spanish wound, and Napoleon was willing if necessary to restore 
Ferdinand, if only he could count upon him to make common front against 
Britain. But when he made ready to take Joseph at his word, the latter had 
already changed his mind. Naturally he complained bitterly about the decree, 
and henceforth ascribed to it everything that went wrong in Spain. 4 Only moral 
forces can carry through the affairs of Spain’, 1 he affirms, while repressive military 
government and the attack on the country’s unity could not but alienate men’s 

i. vi, 165. 



minds. Striking words, but Masson shows their hollowness when he reveals that 
Joseph at the same time declared his readiness to abdicate if he might go back to 
Naples. In any case he wanted territorial compensation . . . The Spaniards could 
expect no more from such a king than could Napoleon. At the same time, as 
Masson states very plainly, the military administration of the four governments 
did have a most deplorable effect. The French generals, their former ideals long 
forgotten, thought of nothing else but lording it and feathering their own nests. 

In every way the Spanish affair was a burden for Napoleon, an illness, a sore. 
One can understand that he would have liked to liquidate it. Why did he not 
force Joseph to abdicate? That is the problem. He openly declared that by con- 
tinuing the war Britain forced him to subjugate the whole of Spain, but when 
Joseph, even more angry than hurt, came to France, he nevertheless obtained 
considerable concessions in a personal interview with the Emperor. The Emperor 
even made him his lieutenant in Spain and commander-in-chief of the French 
troops. When in 1812 the long-meditated campaign against Russia was at last 
begun, tills position acquired real significance, with disastrous results, as might 
have been expected. Spain was in any case a training ground in disobedience for 
the marshals. With Joseph as commander-in-chief, the result was bound to be 
‘anarchy among the men, disunity among the commanders, inefficiency in the 
general staff, and sooner or later defeat and collapse’. 1 There was to be a long via 
dolorosa before that ending, but when the final disaster came in June 1813 at 
Vittoria - Joseph had once more been expelled from Madrid in July 1812 - it 
was accompanied by the most unsavoury incidents, a precipitous flight into 
French territory, and bitter recriminations against French commanders, who 
must bear the blame for the King’s mistakes. And even in the gilded exile of 
Mortefontaine, Joseph still kept raising objections to Napoleon’s plan, long 
overdue, seriously to undertake the liquidation of the Spanish venture and the 
restoration of Ferdinand. Joseph was determined to remain king, c roi catholique, 
roi desEspagnes et des Indes\ z 

Masson’s whole account is intended to show how foolish, clumsy, and self- 
centred Joseph was. The conclusion which he presses upon the reader is that it is 
really not fair to blame Napoleon for his impatience and rough handling of such 
a man, and that Joseph’s utterances should not be produced in evidence against 
his powerful brother. Even Thiers had let himself be taken in by Joseph and his 
protagonists, and while recognizing that he was lacking in energy, believed in 
his insight, his * sens', his ‘ esprit juste\ After the Vittoria disaster, he considered 
that instead of giving free rein to his wrath against Joseph and Marshal Jourdan, 
Napoleon ought to have remembered that it was to be imputed in the first place 

1. vi, 347. 2. vni, 259. 

1 8(5 


to liis own mistakes. 1 But when Masson himself pictures Napoleon as * a victim 
of the family sense, of the Corsican spirit, of primogeniture’, 4 he hardly adds to 
his greatness as statesman. And if he is right in dunking that Thiers conceals 
Joseph’s pretentiousness and glosses over his stupidities, thus giving a completely 
false picture of his true character,* Thiers’s view that Napoleon * with his pene- 
trating genius and his perfect knowledge of affairs, was better able than anybody 
else to foresee everything, and with his undisputed powei, to prevent it’ is not 
thereby refuted. 

We see here once more that Masson’s judgement, as soon as it deals with 
Napoleon, cannot command unquestioning confidence. If we moreover remem- 
ber that he preferred to set aside those shrewd observations of Joseph’s which 
might seem to show up the Emperor’s blindness, we shall at a later stage note 
with interest other comments upon the Spanish episode which put the eldest 
brother in a somewhat better light. 


After the fall of Louis in 1810, the man who trembled most for his position was 
Murat. His fear led him into schemes which were nothing less than disloyal. He 
formed a party on which he could rely, to maintain himself in his kingdom 
should Napoleon try to take it away from him. Its components were dissatisfied 
Frenchmen and Italians whose thoughts reached beyond Naples. There was in 
particular a minister, Maghella, who pointed out to Murat how much support 
he might obtain from the rising Italian desire for unity. When disaster came, 
Murat put these lessons into practice. 

He had accompanied Napoleon on the expedition to Russia. To whom should 
the Emperor confide the supreme command when he left the army to counteract 
in Paris the effect of the catastrophe? 

The hierarchy which he had created [says Masson] hampers his freedom of action. 
He feels obliged to transfer the command, not to the one most worthy, not to the 
ablest or the most persevering, but to the one with the highest title . . . Murat is 
king, so Murat is to be the commander-in-chief. Napoleon believes in the prestige 
of that crown which he made with his own hands, like the savage who renders 
homage to the graven image which he has fashioned.* 

Murat begins by making all sorts of conditions, political conditions, and gets 
satisfaction of a number of cherished wishes regarding Naples. In the ensuing 
weeks, however, his leadership was hesitating; he seemed to have lost bis head. 

I. Histoire du consulat et de V Empire, v, 93a. 2. Napoleon et safamille , vx, 347. 

3. op. cit. viii, 140 n. 4. vn, 339 ff. 



His thoughts were not indeed with la grande armee but in Naples. On one occasion 
he gave vent to a fierce outburst against Napoleon in the presence of a number of 
marshals and generals. 

Finally he, too, deserted the army in its desperate plight, and hurried to Naples, 
there to negotiate with the Austrians, who were still outwardly friendly to 
Napoleon but likely to be a force to reckon with in Italy if the Emperor should 
fall, and even with the British in Sicily, that he might save his throne from the 
shipwreck. Napoleon knew much and suspected more, but Murat’s treachery 
remained concealed for a considerable time. Murat again fought at the side of the 
Emperor in the German campaign of 1813, but after the defeat of Leipzig he lost 
no time in making a pact with the Austrians. A few months later, Napoleon was 
expectmg to see him come to his aid with a Neapolitan army, but when Murat 
moved north at the head of this army, he did so in consultation with the enemies 
of Napoleon and against him. 

There is no need for me to describe Murat’s further adventures, which brought 
him before an Austrian firing party a year and a half later. Nor need I say more 
about Jerome, whose kingdom collapsed like a pack of cards with the change of 
fortune in Germany. 


The defeat of Napoleon opens up a new scene. It is with restrained bitterness that 
Masson tells in detail how each of his characters tried to save himself, his titles, 
and his possessions, seeing that he could not save his power, without bothering 
about Napoleon, who might be remembered in a few well-chosen words, if 
even that was not too much trouble. Eugene, the beloved stepson, always 
obedient and dutiful, whose conduct compared so favourably with that of the 
Bonaparte family, acted more prudently than Murat. He cut himself adrift in 
good time from Italian ambitions and French rights, that he might enjoy the 
undisturbed possession of his enormous fortune with his Bavarian princess in her 
own country. Joseph was still elegantly doing the honours at one or another of 
his mansions. That he might be spared trouble with the royal police, he did not 
scruple to enlarge to Talleyrand, now the King’s minister, and to the ambas- 
sadors of Russia and Austria, 1 upon his complaints against his brother and his 
dislike of the latter’s ungovernable ambition, for which he should not be regarded 
as responsible. Lucien, who had at least the excuse of years of opposition to the 
dictator, tried to retain his French senatorship under the Restoration. So did 
Bacdochi, the Prince of Lucca, Alisa’s husband; and she herself moved heaven 
and earth to convince ‘Europe’ that compensation was due to her for her losses. 

1. x, 220 fF. 



Pauline alone, the family beauty, frivolous but not completely self-seeking, 
came to Elba to keep her brother company in his misfortune. Madame Mere was 
there too. In an appendix to his tenth volume, Masson refutes the charge of 
incest (to which, as we have seen - p. 13 6- even Taine had given credence in a 
weak moment). He produces all the documents, and shows that the story was 
based on the mischievous gossip of a royalist police spy. As always when it is a 
question of human relationships, he here shows real understanding and a sense of 
measure. He outlines the figure of Pauline without sentimentality or embellish- 
ment, as the easy-living sensual woman she was. Coarse-grained she was not; 
indeed she was delicate and sensitive. But she was superficial, and Masson does 
not lnde the fact that when her little son died in 1806 she did not allow the event 
to affect her participation in court functions. Accordmg to legend, she had 
watched at his bedside: Masson shows that the child in fact died alone in the 
family where she had boarded him out. Arthur-Levy’s account of Pauline gives 
the measure of the difference between these two writers. He does not conceal 
the lovers -in fact a French public would not expect him to - hut he wraps it all up 
in a haze of conventional romanticism. 


I began by saying that the impression of Napoleon left by Masson with the 
reader of his work is on the whole not favourable. It is impossible to view that 
tremendous career, the world-wide events, one might say, of those full and 
terrible fifteen years within the orbit of the Bonaparte family, without a sense of 
incongruousness, of disharmony. By his choice of subject alone, as a consequence 
of which we hear just so much of the diplomacy and the wars and the internal 
reorganizations and relations to religion and the Church as is necessary to under- 
stand family complications and preoccupations, Masson gives the impression 
that to Napoleon himself the latter were really what mattered. And the writer 
was the first to be influenced by stating his problem in this fashion. His attention 
was so entirely and so continually concentrated upon the personal side as to make 
him seek there the explanation, and the aims and motives, of his subject. 

He was well aware that he was exposing himself to a dangerous temptation. 
This appears from his full introduction to the eighth volume, written in 1906. 
He says in so many words that the aim of his inquiry is to find out what influence 
upon Napoleon’s ‘plans, negotiations, and destiny’ was exercised by his family 
sense. He says that though the family did contribute to the catastrophe, he is well 
aware that the true cause lies elsewhere. He then gives a sketch of international 
relationships as he sees them from 1799 to 1815, and also from the beginnings to 
1906. Britain is the enemy throughout. Britain has always pursued her aim of 



world dominion with cold calculation and unrelenting pertinacity, and for this 
purpose, while roaming the seas and conquering territories, has had to keep the 
European continent divided. France has no enemy as inevitable as Britain. 
Napoleon tried to hit her, first by an invasion project, then by unifying the 
continent. But Britain continued to foment division and to promote the forma- 
tion of coalitions against the dangerous rival. Hypocritical Britain, who begins to 
call the slave trade immoral once she has no further use for it, but knows that 
abolition will cause the French West Indies to languish, who fights with the aid 
of mercenaries, or better still by subsidizing rulers, who does not scruple to ally 
herself with Japan against the while race (we are now looking far beyond 
Napoleon), Britain on whose account unhappy France has allowed herself to be 
trapped (the Entente coidiale dated from 1904) into serving, with her blood and 
probably with her existence as a nation, against the new rival for world markets, 
Germany ; tills Britain it is who defeated Napoleon and with him the hope of a 
united Europe, and this Britain is for ever the enemy of France. 

All tins is appallingly crude. It is certainly only too characteristic of a particular 
French mentality, and it helps to explain by what ways Napoleon’s imperial 
policy was able for so long to touch French hearts ; but as history it is childish. 
Nor does this introduction fit organically into the work as a whole, 1 and the 
writer was unable to make the ideas he expressed m it into the flesh and bones of 
his great work. Indeed, international history is not really his affair. His domain is 
personal and family relationships, and so in spite of himself he succumbs, as I 
have said, to the temptation to overestimate their significance as factors in 

Tins is shown clearly in a number of cases. For example, he dates the change 
in the relations between Napoleon and Pius VII from the latter’s refusal of the 
Emperor’s request to declare invalid Jerome’s first marriage (with the American, 
who was, as Napoleon stressed, a Protestant). The request was in fact more of a 

1. So much so that Pierie Muret entirely overlooks it m his important article in the 
Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine, xvm (1913), on * La politique etranghe de Napoleon 
Ier\ and writes: e . . . M. Frederic Masson a con$u une politique de Napoleon toute 
penetree de ses sentiments et de ses passions personnelles, revelant chez lui la volonte de 
pker 1’histoire a ses conceptions au lieu de se laisser entrainer par des courants anterieure- 
ment formes.’ In the Introduction to volume vm this is exactly what Masson tries to 
argue. And which, according to Muret, are the sentiments and passions indicated in 
Masson’s book as the true motives of Napoleonic policy? Family feeling, centred in the 
first instance on his brothers and sisters (*Les royautes vassales, que les histonens avaient 
jusqu’alors considerees comme un moyen de gouvemer l’empire, deviennent une des 
raisons, peut-etre la principale, de la conquete de cet empire’) and next on his son ( £ la 
naissance du roi de Rome, parce qu’elle a modifie la conception impenale de Napoleon 
et de ses sentiments les plus intimes, est un dvenement plus gros de consequences que 
nombre de batailles ou d’annexions’). 



demand, and Masson (who is quite indifferent to Pope or to Christendom) was 
well aware of the extreme tactlessness of Napoleon’s letter and remarks neatly 
that the refusal * annoyed him as an act of msubordination’. 1 There was so much 
that was difficult in this relationship, and it was more Napoleon’s unbridled 
obsession with power than his special family sentiment which made the break 
inevitable. Again, Masson maintains that Joseph’s reluctance to quit his shaky 
Spanish throne in 1812 was the only obstacle to a settlement with Britain. It 
adds a dramatic touch in his whole picture of Napoleon’s enslavement to the 
family, this suggestion that the Emperor threw away his last chance of avoiding 
final catastrophe, out of deference to Joseph. But this time every detail is wrong. 2 3 
That Napoleon’s proposals to Britain were not intended seriously, and that he 
did not dream of giving up his Russian adventure whatever happened, are facts 
as solidly established as any can be in history. 

But even if one does not follow Masson in the exaggerations and errors to 
which his one-sidedness leads him, his presentation of the story forces upon one 
the conclusion that the family factor, the pride and self-conceit extended to 
include the family, did all too often influence Napoleon’s pohtical action, so 
much so that his clear-sightedness, his sense of reality and balance, indeed his 
feeling of responsibility for the French people and for humanity in general were 
disastrously affected. 

It is, as I have said, most remarkable that Masson’s ecstatic admiration for 
Napoleon is in no way diminished. He never falters in his view of Napoleon as 
not only a character of unequalled greatness, an admirable human being, but also 
throughout as the man of the people, the son of the Revolution. His cause is that of 
the nations, and with his fall the freedom of the peoples went too. To this view, 
surprising to Dutch or British readers but far from unusual in French historiog- 
raphy, I shall be returning. In any case, as regards France, it will now be under- 
stood that in Masson’s view it was the Liberator who returned in 1815, and that 
like Houssaye he regarded the Chamber’s demand that Napoleon should abdicate 
after Waterloo as *a coup d'etat against national sovereignty’, as c a crime against 
the fatherland ’.3 

1. hi, 157; see also p. 103 above. 

2. vii, 280 £F. Compare for example Vandal, Napoleon et Alexandre Ter, n, 3 86 and 
Holland Rose, Napoleon , n, 238 note. Masson certainly says that the seriousness of 
Napoleon’s proposal has been doubted, but he began by calling it moderate and to 
describe it as an attempt to preserve the peace with Russia; in fact, if Napoleon intended 
anything at all, he intended to safeguard himself on the English side in preparation for 
his attack on Russia. The passage is typical of the light-heartedness with which Masson 
disposes of international questions. 

3. xi, 164, 335. 



To his twelfth volume Masson added yet another introduction, written in 
November 1918. The old man - he was seventy-one - imagines that it was the 
spirit of Napoleon which had won the war. It would be interesting to know how 
he reconciled this view with his introduction of twelve years previously, in which 
he declared that defence against a Britain eternally and unchangeably hostile was 
the essence of Napoleons policy, linking it with French tradition. But we must 
not go to Masson for strict logic or consistency. He has now discovered a new 
enemy, emerging from the victory itself, that is the League of Nations, and 
attacks the profiteers of victory who have not taken part in the fight. 

According to Thibaudet, shrewd and (it must be added) leftist historian of 
modern French literature, Masson’s work had taken the place of Thiers’s on the 
bookshelves of the generation before the First World War. The fact makes it 
difficult to be very proud of belonging to that generation, he comments sadly.* 
I can understand this comment if it refers to the mistake of looking to Masson 
for the authentic story of Napoleon. But Masson himself had pointed out that he 
intended to give something different, even though in practice he sometimes finds 
it difficult to separate the history of the man Napoleon from history proper. 
Ceitainly Ins introductions are enough to put on the defensive anyone who 
expects a balanced outlook from historians. 

What a hothead the man is ! His emotions and his feelings jostle his ideas ; in the 
general confusion the goal is left behind. But the historical impulse derives in- 
spiration from many sources. I find it pleasing to observe how diverse opinions 
and heterogeneous temperaments may assist in disclosing truth. In spite of all his 
exaggerations and shortcomings, Masson has certainly made a contribution to 
the understanding of Napoleon, by his intense and persevering interest and his 
sharp eye for character and human relationships. 2 

1. A. Thibaudet, Histoire de la Utterature frangaise de 1789 h nos jours (1936), p. 271. 

2. This was immediately recognized, and this in spite of the fact that Masson clung 
obstinately to his pernicious habit of not giving his sources. See, for example, the article 
by P. Caron on volumes v and vx in the Rente d’ histoire moderne et contemporaine, v, 
556 & (1903-04). 

Count Albert Vandal 


We pass to a writer very different from any of those with whom I have placed 
him m this section. The contrast with Masson is particularly striking Count 
Vandal is as controlled and conventional as Masson is excitable and eccentric. 
Masson’s style has something direct, not too polished; he pours out his animated 
story, now interrupting it to make a slashing attack or to shrug his shoulders in an 
angry aside, now flying off into rhetorical eloquence. Vandal on the contrary, 
for all his colourful descriptions and his far from charitable judgements, remains 
composed and urbane, and his work, though lively and varied, preserves a 
conscious poise. 

The introduction to the first of the two great works he left, written in 1890, 
announces the spirit in which he intends to approach Napoleon. The subject was 
the relations between Napoleon and Alexander of Russia from 1807 to 1812, 
that is, the foreign policy from the period of greatest power to the beginning of 
the disaster. For Vandal there was something fascinating and imposing about the 
gigantic historical figure in itself, something which silences criticism. With 
P0220 di Borgo, 4 one of the men who hated and admired Bonaparte most’, he 
says that ‘to judge him would be like judging the universe*. This expression of 
respect and of awe, when confronted with fact, with power, certainly takes us 
far from Lanfrey with his ethical rejection and his obstinate refusal to see any- 
thing great in the figure of Napoleon. It is certain that such respect and awe form 
a pre-eminently fruitful element in the historical mind, and that their absence 
explains the unfavourable impression left by Lanfrey’s work on Napoleon, in 
spite of all its merits. 

But it would be a mistake to believe that historians who talk so much about 
awe do not therefore hold opinions of their own. To write history without 
introducing opinion is unthinkable. Vandal takes his standards from Napoleon 
himself, and from the interest of France as conceived by Napoleon. He adopts no 
ethical, freedom-loving, internationalist standards, or any others independent of 
Napoleon. Such an attitude has, I repeat, advantages for the practice of histori- 
ography, but in its turn it leaves the independent critical mind unsatisfied. In any 
case it does contain a judgement, involving acceptance, admiration, and identi- 




We are far now from Lanfrey or Mme de Stael. But with Vandal we are also 
far removed from Houssaye or Masson. He does not greet Napoleon as the man 
who fulfilled the Revolution, the idol of the people. Far from it ; he shudders at 
the excessive. As a Frenchman, he feels oppressed by the triumphant spectacle in 
which the morrow was ever left uncertain, and he looks back wistfully on former 
periods in French history 

when she combined a serene temper with strength, faith in the future with a 
complete possession of the present, and with the advantage of virile virtues that of 
ancient traditions, when she had not yet suffered the misfortune, of all that can 
befall a country the least easy to repair, the loss of a tutelary dynasty consecrated by 
the centuries. 

With the reservation implied in this royalist and anti-revolutionary profession 
of faith, he still feels admiration 

for the genius which carried out or inspired amazing deeds, whose magical power 
raised to their highest pitch those qualities of honour, audacity [bravoure], obedience, 
and dedication which are peculiar to our people, for him who, having reconciled 
our nation with itself, created from it an army of heroes and for a time lifted the 
Frenchman above mankind. 

Much was spoken about honour in the days of Napoleon, but was the honour 
of a people drilled to fulfil the purpose of a dictator, their freedom of expression 
hampered, was that indeed the highest honour that may be conceived? Is bravoure 
the highest form of courage? Is not obedience, in this context, a polite word for 
submissiveness or even servility? Is dedication a virtue in itself? Finally, are these 
qualities typical of the Frenchman particularly? We may take this as a warning 
that we shall find Vandal concerned with other values than - let us say once 
more - Mme de Stael. We are warned, as well, that he is capable of a remarkable 
idealization of the past under the impact of his political prejudice. The ‘serene 
temper’ with which Louis XIV expelled the Huguenots, with which Louis XV 
gave himself up to dissipation, leaving himself just sufficient time to intrigue 
against his own ministers; France’s ‘strength’, her ‘faith in the future’, her 
‘complete possession of the present’, when Louis XIV brought her to the brink 
of disaster in the War of the Spanish Succession, or when Louis XV gambled 
away her colonial possessions in the Seven Years War - reflections like these put 
us on our guard against Vandal’s judgement. 

For the moment I am leaving NapoUon et Alexandre let , from the introduction 
to which these quotations have been taken. It will be glanced at again when I 
come to deal with Napoleon’s foreign policy. I shall pass now to Vavenement de 



Bonaparte, which appeared in 1903 and has since been generally and rightly 
recognized as a show piece of Napoleonic literature. 


Among the books I have discussed so far, the only works comparable are 
Houssaye’s 1814 and 1815. There is no survey or recapitulation of the whole 
career, no discussion, no argument, but simply a thorough and detailed study of 
a very short period. Houssaye takes the tragic final phase. Vandal the radiant 
debut. From a historical as well as stylistic point of view, his work is of a lugher 
quahty. Indeed it is extremely fine. His documentation is no less circumstantial 
and careful, but thejoins in the Jig-saw puzzle are not so obvious, he has succeeded 
in building from his material a picture which is more vivid, more alive. Fie keeps 
his hero even less to the fore than Houssaye; indeed, the value and the attraction 
of Ins book reside in the broad treatment of the conditions and circumstances 
which made possible the rise of the dictator. Possible - and desirable. 

For that is the conclusion which the writer underlines; the skill and forceful- 
ness of his presentation are such that the reader almost believes he has reached it 
unaided. Something had to happen. Such was the confusion, that one might 
almost call it a society in dissolution. There was royalist resistance, backed by the 
British, in various districts all along the periphery of France, and here and there 
assuming the form of chronic banditry. There was the Church broken up by the 
Constitution civile, even when it was declared no longer valid; the majority of 
priests regarded as dangerous to the state and treated as such, while the loyal 
minority was despised by the faithful. The army, badly equipped and shabby, was 
in retreat on all the frontiers, while rascally army purveyors made fortunes. In 
Paris the members of a revolutionary rump, the rehc of many murderous quarrels, 
were still concerned solely with the thought of staying in power, a kind of par- 
liamentary oligarchy, suspicious of democratic pressure after all they had been 
through, averse to social revolution, and regarding revolutionary freedom as 
freedom for the upper middle class. Their heads, it is true, were still filled with 
revolutionary phrases conveying abhorrence of kings and the Church, and with 
these they teased the masses (who had expected something quite different from 
the Revolution) and governed, or rather failed to govern, by the aid of special 
decrees and arbitrary measures. The windbags of that quasi parliamentary regime 
appear in Vandal’s pages little less hideous than the bloodthirsty Jacobins whom 
they had put out of office, but who - to the annoyance and terror of the ordinary 
people, whose only prayer was for peace and quiet - rose once more from their 
hiding-places. Could one be sure that they had been put down for good? 

A sigh of relief goes up when at last a man appears who knows what he wants 


and who understands authority and order, a realist who does not care a rap for 
high-sounding principles which serve no other purpose than to worry the 
people or provide the so-called government with a facade of fine phrases. A man 
who though at first he is played off by some of those windbags against others, 
soon sweeps them all aside and takes power to himself. The reader feels relief, and 
understands the relief felt by the people of France. And next, seeing Bonaparte 
at work, with that amazing certainty of touch, he cannot help understanding the 
ascendance he exercised, the approval he won, and how it was possible that he 
could throw off in a few years the last vestiges of control which the parliamen- 
tarians had been able to include in the new constitution. 

And at the same time one begins to wonder whether the irregularities he 
permitted himself before and after the 18th Brtmiaire in order to get rid of the 
intellectuals and the bourgeoisie, to tame them or break them, should be judged 
so in the abstract, as moral questions, so entirely apart from the circumstances, as 
we have seen done by the writers under Napoleon II I, themselves typical opposi- 
tion liberals. Vandal is not so particular. It is not that he flatters the motives and 
methods of the First Consul. He is quite liberal with such words as cupidite and 
astuce. But with him the balance is different. From his account of persecutions and 
deportations of political opponents under the Directorate (the worst cases were 
after the coup d’etat of Fructidor 1797), or of its ambition to use the educational 
system to obtain uniformity of public opinion, we are forced to conclude - 
though this is never explicitly stated - that Bonaparte was at least not worse than 
Ins immediate predecessors. The only difference was that whereas he acted 
efficiently and purposively, they provided the depressing spectacle of a crude 
impotence. There is one passage in which Vandal attacks with a certain vehem- 
ence the point of view of what I might call for simplicity’s sake the liberal school : 

Among the legends which have found acceptance about the 18th Brumaire, 
none is more completely erroneous than that of the Assassination of Liberty. It 
was long a historical commonplace to represent Bonaparte as shattering with one 
blow of his sword a truly lawful state of affairs, and in the Orangerie of St Cloud 
[where the Five Hundred had been summoned for the coup d’etat] stifling with the 
roll of his drums the last groans of French liberty. It is no longer permissible to 
repeat that solemn absurdity. Bonaparte can be blamed for not having founded 
Liberty, he cannot be accused of having overthrown it, for the excellent reason 
that he nowhere found it in being on his return to France. 1 

The plea is a striking one. Yet if one remembers what I have said of Quinet 
and Lanfiey’s views, the objection can be raised that neither of them had over- 
looked these two points that liberty had been undermined before 18th Brumaire 

1. 1, 26. 



and that the crimes of the Directorate had paved the way for the dictator. 
Quinet’s lamentation, already mentioned (p. 77), is none the less justified: 

As long as there had been a civilian government, and a constitution, and a republic, 
there were at least the roots from winch liberty might spring to blossom once more ; 
now there came, with the sword, a regime on principle opposed to liberty. 

Apart from all this, the critical reader will from time to time get the impression 
that Vandal is trying to take him farther than the facts warrant. Again and again 
it becomes only too clear that the writer feels himself at home under a dictator- 
ship. Strong government means more to him than freedom. This appears 
throughout in his comments and evaluations. The people’s blind surrender, 
always the strength of a dictator in his first phase, he regards as instinctive 
wisdom. He takes an obvious pleasure in the bewilderment of the ‘ideologists’ 
who discover too late that they have given themselves a master. Would he have 
described the Parliamentarians of the Five Hundred and the ‘lawyers’ of the 
Directorate and their civil agents so scornfully, would he have belittled them so 
systematically, were he not hostile to parliamentarianism in general? 

Vain and declamatory world, coarsely gesticulating, devoid of that external 
decency which, in times of monarchy, covers the ugly side of politics. 

Directorial anarchy, parhamentary noise, these things were becoming abhorrent 
to the generals. This regime of impotent babblers revolted their manliness; their 
gorge rose at last with disgust against the malodorous untidiness of the revolu- 
tionaries. 1 

It will be noticed how unconditionally the writer takes sides in the eternal con- 
flict between ‘the generals’ and ‘the politicians’, in which a different conception 
of history will hardly attribute all the wrongs so exclusively to the latter. Else- 
where we are struck by the strong moral disapproval he displays in judging one 
of the Directorate’s proscriptive measures, designed indeed to remain inopera- 
tive, ‘this cowardly and barbarous deed’. 3 One reflects that he never treats 
Bonaparte so harshly. It is true that in passing (for the story of ‘the infernal 
machine’ lies outside the scheme of his book) he calls the proscription of ‘the 
general staff of thejacobins’ ‘a cruel and arbitrary measure’ ; but this qualification 
is as it were hidden among explanatory and adulatory comments. 3 

One begins after a while to wonder whether the Directorate and commis- 
sioners were really so entirely ruled by low motives, selfishness, petty fanaticism 
as Vandal insists. Is not the whole background, against which Bonaparte stands 
out as a figure of light, painted in too sombre colours? I do no more now than 
put the question. We shall see that later writers have faced it, and I shall have 
something to tell of the answers they propose. 

1. 1, 75, 114* 2. 1, 183 3. 11, 452. 




But is it not possible, without the aid of these other writers and without any 
original research of our own, solely by careful and discriminating reading, to 
arrive at more positive conclusions? Let us go more thoroughly into Vandal’s 
account of the coup d’etat. A comparison with Lanfrey’s older version, so con- 
temptible in the eyes of Napoleon’s eulogists, will prove to be quite useful. 

As a historical narrative, as the evocation of an important event in all its 
particulars, the lengthy passage in Vandal is infinitely more successful. It is a 
piece of artistry which it would be difficult to match. It is more true to life, less 
superficial, less ornate too, than Motley; has more mobility and vitality than 
Fruin; is more subtly shaded, more colourful, and yet more direct and clearer 
than Treitschke. A round hundred large-size pages are devoted to the two days, 
the 1 8 th and 19th Brumaire, during which the coup d’itat was accomplished. 

A conspiracy was hatched between Bonaparte, who had just returned from 
Egypt and had immediately been hailed by the public as France’s saviour from 
the threat of war, and Siey&s, who had recently become a Director and who had 
even before that been cogitating a thorough and if necessary revolutionary 
change in the constitution. The intention was to profit by the divisions in the 
ruling bodies themselves. The majority in the assembly of the Ancients was in 
favour of the change. It was now, making use of its constitutional powers, to 
move to St Cloud the less tractable Five Hundred, in which the Jacobins were 
strong, and at the same time - this was really already going outside the constitu- 
tion - to entrust Bonaparte with the command of all troops in and around Paris. 
The purpose of it all was simply to fix on a firm basis the shift to the right in the 
republican regime. So it was thought ; so at least Sieyes imagined. Bonaparte had 
his own views about the aim. 

The coup d’itat was carried out in two tempi. 


On the morning of the 18 th, the Ancients decided on the removal of the Five 
Hundred to St Cloud and the handing over of the command to Bonaparte. Un- 
reliable elements had not been asked to the assembly; they might have put 
awkward questions about the reason given, a Jacobin conspiracy which was 
indeed an invention and necessitated the use of big words to take the place of 
names and particulars. At the same time, Bonaparte had invited a large number 
of generals and high-ranking officers to his house. Guessing what was on foot, 
they talked excitedly and in a state of cheerful anticipation, until Bonaparte 



received the decree and was able to ask for their support to save the Republic. 
The noisy group accompanied him enthusiastically to the Tuileries, where he 
began by talcing the oath in the assembly of Ancients, without however men- 
tioning the constitution, and then set up his headquarters. 

It was here that Bonaparte revealed that he was aiming at the Directorate. 
Barras, who personified corruption among the Directors, and who had been 
Bonaparte’s protector a year or two before, sent his secretary to find out how the 
land lay, and it was to this obscure and tremblmg personage that the general 
made his famous outburst, the echo of which we heard even in Balzac’s story: 

What have you done with that France which I left so bright in your hands? [He 
was referring to his departure for Egypt.] I had left you peace, I found war; I left 
you victories, I found defeats ! I left you Italy’s millions, I found nothing but 
predatory laws and poverty. What have you done with the hundred thousand 
Frenchmen whom I knew, who were my comrades in glory? They are dead. 

That eloquent charge was carefully rehearsed, and it had scarcely been declaimed 
when Bonaparte whispered to the secretary that Barras himself need not take it 
to heart. 

Meanwhile, the Five Hundred had to wait for the following day before they 
could meet at St Cloud, and as a result were reduced to silence ; but the conspira- 
tors were losing no time in seizing the Directors whom they wished to get rid of. 
These were three out of the five (Siey&s and a friend of his being in the plot, as 
we know). Of the three, Barras signed the high-sounding offer of resignation 
which was presented to him by Talleyrand, Bonaparte’s admirer and follower 
since the Italian campaign. The two others, who refused to sign, were placed 
under supervision. The revolution had begun. The true test did not come until 
the meeting with the Five Hundred the following day. Sieybs wanted to weaken 
the assembly beforehand by taking into preventive custody their strongest 
Jacobin spokesman. But Bonaparte thought he could tackle them without this 


But on the 19th Brumaire things nearly went wrong, and brute force, which 
Bonaparte in his desire for public approval would have liked to keep in the 
background, had to be used publicly. It was a mistake to spread the whole affair 
over two days. The opponents had time to consult each other; many of the 
supporters, particularly the mere hangers-on, began to hesitate. The partial 
revelation of Bonaparte’s true intention, and the prominent part taken by the 
military element in the coup d'etat, contributed greatly to this development. In 



St Cloud, whither Bonaparte went surrounded by generals, the Ancients were 
now meeting in the palace, while the Orangery was being prepared for the Five 
Hundred. These latter were in a pugnacious mood, and when in the afternoon 
their hall was at last ready, they began by once more swearing allegiance to the 

Bonaparte, compelled to wait aimlessly, found himself in an extremely 
awkward position, and there were worried faces and anxious whispers among 
Ins following. His own nervousness appeared when, in order to hurry on the 
business, he came down to the assembly of Ancients and made an incoherent 
speech in which self-justification alternated with threats and bombast, the whole 
interspersed with insinuations and insults agamst the Five Hundred. In spite of 
the efforts of his supporters, he was unable to overcome the hesitation of the 
assembly. From there he went straight to the Orangery. The rumour of his 
violent words in the other place had preceded him, and members were m a state 
of angry excitement. His entry was the signal for a frightful uproar. * Down with 
the dictator ! Down with the tyrant ! Outlaw him ! ’ That last phrase, hors la loi!, 
had an ominous sound. It was with these words that the Convention had brought 
about the fall of Robespierre and doomed him to the guillotine. A few members 
laid hands on the intruder, officers and soldiers rushed to his assistance. But 
Bonaparte had completely lost his head and was carried away from the brawl 
in a half-fainting condition. 

Within the hall there was now a move to turn the cry of ‘outlaw him’ into a 
decree, and it was fortunate that Lucien Bonaparte was chairman. With amazing 
coolness, he acted his part so skilfully that he managed to create confusion in the 
maddened assembly and to delay proceedings until finally, at his wits’ end, he 
was able to get outside, more or less by surprise. Here Bonaparte, once more in 
control of himself, and alarmed by the report that the decree of outlawry had 
already been passed, had called aux armes through the windows, but the grena- 
diers who acted as guard for the assembly hesitated to take orders from him. In 
the garden the regular troops were drawn up, eager for action; these Bonaparte 
might if necessary march against the Five Hundred. Beside himself, he was 
already denouncing the assembly as sold to Britain, and accusing it of a murderous 
attempt on himself. But a tussle with the grenadiers would have made an unhappy 
impression. It now became Lucien’s task to persuade the grenadiers. He used all 
his authority as president of the Five Hundred to implore them to bring to reason 
those traitorous representatives who had drawn their daggers against the sup- 
pressor of the Jacobin plot. When the grenadiers still hesitated, he sent for a 
sword, placed its point against his brother’s breast, and swore he would be the 
first to kill him should he ever assail the freedom of France. This worked. The 
drums sounded a roll. The doors flew open, and in marched the grenadiers with 



lowered bayonets. The deputies admonished them, but the drums drowned their 
protests, the bayonets advanced, and the deputies fell back and fled. Bonaparte 
had won the battle of St Cloud. 


To a high degree graphic and dramatic Vandal’s story undoubtedly is, but his 
comments and the way he lays his emphasis are sometimes surprising Of Bona- 
parte’s impressive outburst to Barras’s secretary he says: 

These words, in which the inaccuracy of individual points is wiped out by tfc 
overwhelming veracity of the whole, have echoed through a century and have fc 
ever put a mark of shame on the Directorate. 

A very different judgement is possible. Cannot the crafty mixture of truth and 
untruth be regarded as typical of the demagogue’s art and m the eye of history 
incapable of imposing marks of shame? 

To take the insinuation that the government had failed to maintain Bonaparte’s 
peace, the historian must surely ask whether the war new had not risen from the 
seeds sown by him in the treaty of Campo Formio, from his Italian policy, from 
his Egyptian expedition (see p. 221). And there is a good deal more. Lanfrey, less 
impressed by This fine piece of rhetoric’, underlines the words, which I did not 
quote, that this state of affairs, if allowed to continue, 6 would bring a despotism 
upon us within three years 9 . Likewise, an hour earlier, in taking the oath in the 
assembly of Ancients, Bonaparte had said : 4 We want a republic based on liberty , 
on equality, on the sacred principles of national representation .* But once he had 
carried the day with the aid of his bayonets, to the consternation of many of his 
adherents (particularly Sieyes) he established a constitution in which all power 
fell to him as First of three Consuls, while the so-called representative bodies 
were simply nominated and moreover were left very little say in affairs. The 
members of the liquidated bodies, in so far as they had taken part in the enterprise, 
were enrolled in the new organs by way of reward - following precedents from 
the later years of the Revolution, for which these purifiers had been using the 
strongest terms of condemnation. 

There is about tills a duplicity which indeed pervades the events of those two 
days, and which the historian cannot dispose of in Vandal’s easy way. With 
reference to the famous 4 What have you done with this France? ’ he sighs : 4 Why 
must the greatest scenes of history have their petty sides and their prosaic under- 
current ?’ 1 And he reveals that in his high flight Bonaparte was being carried on 
borrowed wings and was repeating an address just sent him by a provincial club. 

1. 1, 316. 



As if there were nothing worse ! Worse is the deception, sustained and many- 
sided, premeditated, and declaimed with all an actor’s skill. Vandal is full of 
admiration for Lucien. As far as his strength of mind goes, his resourcefulness, 
his impudence, I can indeed see the point. But I am startled by his comment on 
Lucien’ s role on the 19th Brumaire, when he worked upon the soldiers with his 
lie about the daggers and swore to kill his brother should he threaten freedom. 
All he says is: ‘His demeanour was there truly extraordinary and fine.’ 1 Do all 
great historical events possess those petty aspects, do they all rest upon a basis of 
ruse and deception? * With that man everything was calculated,’ says Lanfrey (when 
telling how Bonaparte held forth to Barras’s secretary and then reassured him in 
a whisper), ‘even his rage.’- Does not this come nearer the truth? Was it not 
more particularly in the case of Napoleon and of the Bonapartes that these great 
scenes had always an undercurrent of disingenuousness? 

This question goes deeper than one might at first imagine. Vandal derives a 
malicious pleasure from the denouement, when the deputies take flight, in their 
red robes. ‘ These petticoatcd folk’, he calls them, with somewhat too easy scorn. 
And he has the nerve to write that 

moral strength was now on the side of the bayonets, and nothing remained to the 
Revolution, succumbing to her errors and excesses, but to shelter under the hand of 
Power, essentially the dispenser of order and of discipline. 3 

That the errors and excesses of the Revolution were destroying it cannot be 
denied. Nothing weakened the Five Hundred at that critical moment so much as 
the memory of the coups d’etat and the acts of violence in which they themselves 
had taken part. To this Lanfrey adds (though he is probably wrong in thinking 
it was the prime reason) that all the most eminent personalities had lost their lives 
in the Terror, in the proscriptions which followed it, or in the war. However 
this may be, Vandal’s argument that ‘moral force’ was entirely on the side of the 
bayonets seems contradicted by his own laudably candid story. However fre- 
quently he produces statements or indications to show that the troops felt they 
had ‘France’ or ‘the nation’ behind them, he cannot make me believe in this 
unanimity. Indifference or exhaustion, of which other historians speak, seem 
more likely factors to me. And without undertaking an inquiry into the validity 
or worth of the evidence, I think we are entitled to quote as principal argument 
against Vandal’s theory those very lies and those fraudulent assurances and false 
promises which Bonaparte and his accomplices found necessary to dispel the 
soldiers’ hesitations and to win over the public. 

The French people confirmed the result of the coup d’etat in a plebiscite - this 
became the system favoured by the new Caesar. There was no longer to be an 

1. 1, 31 * 5 - 2. Histoire de Napoleon, 1, 459. 3. 1, 389. 

20 Z 


elected parliament, which would represent some power to balance his own, but 
there was to be direct consultation of the people. They confirmed - and did so by 
an overwhelming majority. Does this reveal the new ruler’s ‘moral force’? 
Apart from the way in which the plebiscite was held , 1 only the official version of 
the events of the two days was published; and the accomplished fact has a 
peculiar persuasive force. Moreover, the masses undoubtedly hailed Bonaparte 
first and foremost as the man who would protect his country against the advanc- 
ing invader, and did not realize the consequences of Ins rise to power and the 
manner in which it was accomplished. 

That is precisely what Vandal’s circumstantial story enables us to do. It makes 
us feel that Bonaparte’s appearance not only brought ‘power as the dispenser of 
order and discipline’ to France, but also, however beneficial Ills grasp of realities, 
his assurance, his independence of internecine party feelings might be at the 
outset, power that contained the germs of an insatiable militarism and a crushing 
despotism. The parliamentarians and lawyers who had turned to Bonaparte 
because they were impatient at the shortcomings of the existing constitution and 
the Directors, and because they were frightened of the Jacobins - though these 
served as bogy for the man in the street 2 - began to have an inkling of the alarming 
future even before the coup d’itat was completed. They were warned by the 
clatter of sabres which accompanied it and by Bonaparte’s incautious utterances. 
‘No more factions’ - the future dictator considered every party as a faction - 
‘I will have none, I shall tolerate none*, was a typical one. As the affair dragged 
on, several people asked themselves whether it might not be possible to find a 
better solution after all. 

In a striking passage, the wider implications of which Vandal himself I think 
fails to grasp, he says that 

the existence of Bonaparte was never anything else but a struggle against the most 
tragic vicissitudes of politics and of war, and his most perspicacious supporters 
were therefore almost continuously intent on having an alternative government 
ready behind his back, which could step from behind the scenes and throw itself 
suddenly on to the stage in case of a catastrophe. At times it is possible to recognize 
and get hold of that thread. The historians have pointed it out in 1809, after the 
warning of Essling; in 1808, after the first reverses of the Spanish war; nay, even 
as early as 1800, during the campaign of Marengo. As more light is thrown on the 
irmpr history of the Napoleonic period, one realizes that the first appearance of that 
precautionary attitude has to be set back and back; it is to be found on the morning 
of 19th Brumaire itself. 3 

1. Vandal says nothing about this, but we shall hear more of it later, pp. 278 and 320. 

2. This comment, first made by Mme de Stael, is of course not to be found in Vandal, 
but is very co mm on in later historical literature; see for example below, pp. 327, 331. 

3 - h 347 - 



How is it possible for a man who is able so clearly to perceive the insecurity of 
tins regime to regard it as a blessing for Iris country? The contradiction can only 
be explained by his profound hatred of the Revolution, which in his view it 
brought to a close, and of parhamentarianism, which it destroyed. 

‘order, JUSTICE . . . MODERATION* 

The coup d'etat ’ s unattractive aspects must not prevent us from considering with 
an unprejudiced mind the constructive work undertaken by Bonaparte as First 
Consul. It is not only by contrast with the previous regime that Vandal extols his 
hero. Against the background of muddle and folly evoked by his picture of the 
Directorate, he draws a lovnig and in its way impressive picture of the dispenser 
of order, the lawgiver, the state-builder. 

What were Bonaparte’s aims? Let us peruse the draft of the proclamation 
winch he addressed to the French people after his coup d'etat He wanted, he says 
here, m the first place to ‘consolidate the Republic ’. 1 

To consolidate the Republic, it is necessary that the laws should be based upon 
moderation, order, and justice. 

Moderation is the basis of ethics and man’s first virtue. Without it, man is but a 
wild beast. Without it factions may exist, but never a national government. 

Order m income and expenditure : such order can be achieved only through 
stability in administrative, legal, and military organization . . . The lack of order 
in financial matters has caused the monarchy to perish and has endangered 

Justice is the true gift of equality, as civic freedom is that of political liberty. 
Without it, nothing governs the relations between citizens, and its absence causes 
the rise of factions. 

Stable and strong government alone can guarantee impartial justice. 

Vandal unearthed this document from the memoirs of Roederer, the Coun- 
cillor of State whose job it was to turn the splendid ‘simplicity* and ‘precision* 
of Bonaparte’s hastily scribbled words into the emphatic and declamatory style 
which the period demanded. This is how he introduces it: 

As the frontispiece of his government, Bonaparte sets these words: order, justice, 
stability, power, and this word first of all: moderation. 

Vandal accepts these words as truly characteristic. In his own description of 
Bonaparte’s government during these first few years he makes few reservations, 
and none that temper Ins satisfaction at the spectacle. What most delights him is 
the reconciliation and unity through which the ruler seeks to solve the contrasts. 
A man who is entirely hostile to the Revolution and its ideological orbit is not 

1. 1, 542. 



likely to inquire liow far Bonaparte sacrificed the principles of 1789 in reaching 
that synthesis. There is here however no point that is not controversial and for 
which other French historians could not be found to oppose Vandal’s opinions. 
Two of these points I shall now consider a little more closely. The one is the 
question of the centralization of administration carried out m Year VIII, and 
the other is the Concordat. Other matters, such as the question of whether the 
methods used by the First Consul to pacify the Vendee were not needlessly brutal, 
or whether his methods of restoring and maintaining order were not m general 
too reminiscent of terrorism, the question of Ins share in the drawing up of the 
code civil , and its merits, will be discussed later in connexion with other writers. 

Vandal gives a detailed and lucid description of the origin and the working of the 
administrative law of ‘28 Pluviosean V 1 II\ As to its origin, it seems clear that it 
was the work of the experts in the Council of State, except as regards the central 
idea, that of the establishment of the prefects, which is supposed to have come 
from Sieyes. The First Consul was not immediately concerned, but it so closely 
represented his thought that at later stages he had only to consolidate and 
strengthen its tendencies. Vandal’s conclusions are as follows: 1 

The system of Year VIII constitutes the most powerful mechanism ever devised 
to allow the ruler’s will to penetrate from above into all parts of the social structure, 
the will which acts, directs, decides, impels, stimulates, and represses. 2 Everything 
is connected, and moves in unison. Ninety-eight prefects 3 act simultaneously and 
in the same direction under the pressure of the central motive force; they secure 
by decrees the execution of general laws, and issue ordinances of local interest. 
Through four hundred and twenty sous-prefets * they control thirty thousand 
mayors and municipal councils.* All municipal action is subjected to them; it is 
they who start it or approve, supervise, verify, and modify it. By successive trans- 
missions, through channels regularly disposed, the motive power descends from 
the top down to the broad foundations, and spreads without losing its force. 

1. 11, 194. 

2. This is how Thorbecke, the great Liberal statesman of mid nineteenth-century 
Holland, described the state mechanism, for the most part derived from the French 
occupation, which he was intending to alter by his revision of the constitution m 1848: 
‘Our institutions demand above all another and much greater participation on the part 
of the citizens than has existed hitherto. The Constitution excluded the people’s strength; 
this it must now allow to flow through every vein of the State.’ 

3. One for each departement. 

4. One for each arrondissement, section of a departement. 

5. Makes and conseils municipaux all instituted by the First Consul or in less important 
places by the prefect. 



Vandal docs not attempt to deny the evil of this system, which does away with 
all local initiative. Tins is so obvious, he says, that it needs no demonstration. He 
merely denies that ‘this masterpiece of centralization’ was still weighing on 
France, as was so often idly asserted. ‘From 1830 on, all our successive govern- 
ments have introduced elements of liberty, of local life, and of true representa- 
tion.’ Even so, these reforms have often home no fruit, owing to the lack of a 
favourable soil. And thus there comes the admission: 

Even today the spirit of Year VIII still exists, both among the administrators and 
the admimsteied, and the Act of Pluviose rules us, morally rather than materially. 

But now an explanation of this phenomenon is advanced which must silence all 
complaints against the men of Year VIII, and against the dictator who (at the 
least) made their work possible and took advantage of it: 

That organization not only answered the needs of a period sick of anarchy and 
yearning for order, it answered the permanent and traditional aspirations of the 
French, the fatalities of their temperament and of their history. 

To justify this statement, the writer goes on to maintain that the reforms 
which the French people had desired on the eve of the Revolution were simply 
those that would have strengthened royal authority, the source of order and law, 
which would have freed it £r om the excrescences of bureaucratic arbitrariness 
and have brought it closer to the people. 

The nation desired not so much to govern itself as to feel the touch of a govern- 
ment, and especially of an administration, acting in accordance with fixed rules. 

The Revolution, however, fell into the hands of ‘the philosophers and their 
following, the deputies imbued with their doctrines, the thinkers, the dreamers, 
the ambitious, and the rebellious’, and these were the men who had attempted 
‘to organize liberty and to extend it to excess’. That is how the constitution of 
1791 and 1794 came into being, which had introduced an impracticable decen- 
tralization, a crazy hypertrophy of local autonomy, in reality ‘a crawling 
sanguinary chaos’. No wonder, then, that 

France of her own will adapted herself to the consular administrative system, 
authoritarian and too rigid, but organized, and based on simple, clear, uniform, 
and logical laws. 

And so on. 

The delicacy and ingenuity of this plea are admirable. It permits Vandal to call 
Bonaparte ‘the most awe-inspiring despot that France has ever known’, if a 
‘regularizing despot’, and yet to free him from all blame, indeed to greet him 



with cheers. But if, discounting for a moment his personal liking for strong 
government and dictatorships - though this indeed inspired his eloquence on 
the subject - we follow his line of thought as far as possible, we shall see that 
everything turns on the view that France on the eve of the Revolution ‘desired 
not so much to govern itself as to feel the touch of a government, and especially 
of an administration acting in accordance with fixed rules’. 


In asking this question Vandal refers (an unusual step for him) to a few hooks 
which had just^appeared, Champion, La France d’apres les cahiets de 1789, and a 
study of it by Emile Faguet, principally known for his literary criticism. I shall 
not follow him in taking the debate back to an earlier period, that of the Revo- 
lution, or even the years preceding it. It is enough to point out that Champion’s 
interpretation, which became even more positive in the hands of Faguet, was 
immediately and most decisively rejected by other historians. In the Revue 
d’histoire moderne et contemporaine of 1904 is to be found an article by Mathiez : an 
equally fervent supporter of the principles of the Revolution, he was soon to 
oust Aulard as the great expert on its history. The article has the unequivocal 
title ‘ Une conception fausse de la Revolution frangaise.’ 

What had Faguet made of Champion’s exposition of the Revolution? 

The French Revolution, in the aims of the men who started it as well as in the results 
it achieved in the end, is a purely economic and administrative revolution. 

According to Faguet, the cahiers prove that the men of 1789 were thinking 
neither of Liberty nor of Equality, that they did not dream of a parliamentary 
system, in short, that they had no general principles. ‘The principles of 1789? 
They never existed.’ 

Paradoxes, says Mathiez; and from a cahier which had just been unearthed he 
quotes desires which are indeed in total conflict with Faguet ’s formulas. But 
what makes such untenable theories find support? Mathiez has no hesitation in 
explaining the fact by the political preoccupations of the writers. There are those 
who hope by this means to defend the Revolution against ‘Taine and the reac- 
tionaries’, according to whom it was nothing but an epidemic of violence and 
incapable of anything save abstract futility. But there are also those - the ‘ pseudo- 
liberals, the consular republicans’ - who try to hide their recantation of the 
principles of 1789 by denying that such principles exist. 

It will have been noticed that this is an old debate, and one which touches the 



core of the problem concerning the true meaning of Napoleon’s work as a 
statesman. How fiercely Qmnet or Bami protested against this view that the 
French had been concerned only with ‘civic liberty’ (see pp. 74, 78), as though 
they were indifferent to political rights and Napoleon had therefore m fact safe- 
guarded all that was most valuable in the Revolution. This assertion, which in 
their day expressed no more than a purely personal or pohtical assessment, was 
now given historical foundation in such a way as to exclude from the Revolu- 
tion, as it were, the Qumets and the Bamis, the liberals and parliamentarians, 
deprived of their most cherished slogan, ‘ 1789’. 

It is not surprising that Vandal took over the thesis of Champion and Faguet 
with such enthusiasm. Who really was entitled to claim the Revolution left him 
as completely indifferent as did the Revolution itself, but he must have been 
pleased to see the great tradition of 1789 so thoroughly undermined. The con- 
tention that the French people had never been interested in anything save order 
and prosperity (except of course power and glory) must have given him the 
flattering sensation that his own ideas were the only truly French, national, and 
traditional ideas, and tins was at the same time the best defence for the imputations 
made against his hero that he had done violence to the French people and that he 
had changed the true course of French history. 

Let us also note that Matliiez’s protest was not unusual or merely personal. He 
was here in complete agreement with Aulard, however sharply he was soon to 
differ from him in the evaluation of revolutionary phenomena and characters. 
Along with the resurrected cult of Napoleon (we have already heard a Catholic 
voice raised against it) there contmued to coexist the tradition of hostility on 
republican or liberal grounds, and it dominated education. We shall return to this 
tendency later. 


‘ The Concordat ’ , writes V andal, * was a consequence of Marengo. ’ He means that 
it was Marengo (14 June 1800) which first gave the Consul the popularity he 
needed to carry out Ins programme of reconciliation and bridging of conflicts in 
the face of intellectual and doctrinal opposition. He is again at his best in the fine 
description of the homecoming after the victory; his detailed picture of the 
festivities is colourful and significant. In the midst of the excitement and the 
glamour, one sees the quiet, small, unadorned figure of the triumphant hero, 
romantic in its simplicity and in the mystery of its brooding meditating stillness. 1 
And even more fascinating is the description of Napoleon’s impatience, of his 
excited longing for unfettered activity. In his view the Tribunate is now wholly 

1. n, 442, 444 flf. 



redundant. He is irritated by the opposition of all these talkers. Opposition to a 
king is all very well, but opposition to him, the people’s choice, is an attempt on 
the people’s sovereignty. In this frame of mind, he undertakes his ‘cruelly 
arbitrary’ 1 measure against the Jacobins and makes short shrift of the rebels in 
the West. ‘ To destroy the leaders and treat the masses kindly’, such is his system. 
In Vandal’s view all this is justified by the lofty purposes of his policy. And of 
these the religious pacification forms a significant part. 

‘ The most politic as well as the bravest deed in lus life’ 2 is how Vandal describes 
the Concordat. 

It answered to his immediate ambition, to the necessities of his pacification policy, 
to the needs of the time; and in truth, when he attempted to solve the religious 
problem from which France was suffering, he could not do otherwise. 

The argument, as it goes on, is mainly directed against that of d’Haussonville 
(who is not, however, mentioned). According to d’Haussonville, as we know 
(p. 107 ff.), the forging of these new and galling bonds between Church and 
State was an error, and the desired toleration and free development of eccles- 
iastical life and of religion might much better have been assured under the already 
prevailing system of separation of Church and State. This is contested by Vandal. 

At the beginning of his work he had already emphasized that the regime of 
separation introduced in 1795, when the bankruptcy of the Constitution civile had 
to be recognized, had hitherto been used by those in power to destroy the Church. 
For the new State recognized no association, no corporation: only citizens in 
juxtaposition. According to this doctrine, the Church had no existence unless 
guaranteed by a special regulation, and that State needed no other means to 
interfere in a hundred ways with the work of the priests.^ Now a greater benevo- 
lence was shown. Apart from the constitutionnels , who still formed as it were a 
separate Church, a section of the former refractaires - but a section only - had 
made a promise of obedience to the consular regime. Was that sufficient? Vandal 
regards the division of Catholics into three groups as an evil in itself, to which 
the State could not remain indifferent. But above all, this modus vivendi of the 
promise did not do away with two important factors, which remained a source 
of unrest. 

First there was the episcopate, for the most part in exile and systematically 
counter-revolutionary. Even the most peaceful non-constitutional priests re- 
mained sensitive to the instructions and exhortations of their emigre bishops. 

1. I have already quoted this characterization; see p. 197. 

2. II, 46O. 3. I, 26. 



Besides, these priests were irreconcilably opposed on principle to certain of 
the arrangements made in the Revolution, accepted irrevocably not only by the 
French State but by French society as well : to name only the most important, the 
expropriation of ecclesiastical property (now in private hands) and civil marriage. 

What France needed, and what Bonaparte needed, however, was a satisfied 
priesthood, recalled to umty, strictly Catholic, and on that account trusted by the 
people, but sincerely * rallied’ to or at least ready to acquiesce m the new institutions. 

To such an attitude the Government could not by itself convert the priests ; it 
needed the collaboration of the Pope. 

‘And so the imperious despot apphed to the white-robed pontiff/ Can this 
somewhat artificial emotionalism and sentiment, to which Vandal has recourse 
upon occasion, Inde the strictly practical and mundane nature of his conclusion? 
He does not attempt to disguise the fact that such was Bonaparte’s attitude. 
Bonaparte, he writes, realized that with all his genius, Ins power, his glorious 
armies, Ins generals, prefects, lawyers, commissioners, and gendarmes, he could 
not hope to drill men’s consciences . . . And he worked out in figures the moral 
strength possessed by the shepherd of souls at Rome. ‘How must I treat him?’ 
asked his first envoy to the Holy See. ‘Treat him as if he had two hundred 
thousand men/ 1 

Do these considerations dispose of d’Haussonville? No: they run parallel, 
without touching his argument. But they fill in the picture, and help us to see 
Bonaparte’s problem as he himself saw it. That in general is the great merit of 
Vandal’s work, that he recreated the period as it were from within. But judge- 
ment should not therefore abdicate. Later we shall be considering another 
criticism of Bonaparte’s actions in his ecclesiastical policy, a criticism which also 
proceeded from a standpoint other than that of immediate expediency, and we 
shall see then that our insight into the problem and the character can be still 
further enriched. 


‘The standpoint of immediate expediency’ is perhaps a less sympathetic way of 
styling Vandal’s attitude to his problems than he deserves. A moment ago I also 
spoke of* recreating the period from within’, and at the beginning of this chapter 
I referred to Vandal’s ‘ awe when confronted with fact’. 

It must be said, however, that as in the case of Houssaye’s work, the impression 
gained from Vavenement de Bonaparte depends much on the narrow time limits 
of the subject matter within which the conception is worked out. We see Bona- 
i. ii, 470 & 



parte rising above the confusion and corruption in which, according to the 
writer, the many-headed administration of the five Directors and the two Coun- 
cils was so hopelessly involved Afterwards we see him only in those first days 
when the task of reform and of construction satisfied his devouring desire for 
action. Even the violent discarding, after Marengo, of the limitations to which 
lus power was still subject is dealt with only very briefly, while Vandal has 
nothing to say on the further career of Emperor, dictator, and conqueror. We 
also get hardly a glimpse of Bonaparte before his return from Egypt. Other 
writers, on the contrary, interpret the coup d'etat of Brumaire by the light of what 
went before, in particular Fructidor. The war which he, in his demagogic 
manner, laid at the door of the Directorate, they connect, as I have already 
hinted, with his own conduct in Italy, with the peace treaty of Campo Formio, 
and with the bargaining away of Venice. 

There is, however, more to it than this purely external question of time limits. 
Vandal’s view of history is entirely governed by his tendency to accept what has 
happened, and contemptuously to brush aside every postulate of principle or 
ideal, and criticisms dictated by reason. He says somewhere that what the situa- 
tion m 1799 demanded was ‘ a government that was truly reconstructive, tolerant, 
open to all, superior to party, and broadly national’ 1 . If it had been suggested to 
him that this ideal was not permanently realized by Bonaparte, and that his hero’s 
unbridled lust for power, which took the form of despotism internally and of 
conquest externally, must inevitably lead to its ruin, he would not have demurred. 
He might have rephed indirectly by the passage with which his book closes : 

That illustrious war chief became the pacifier of France: he restored the country’s 
national cohesion; that is his glory, his incontestable glory, against which nothing 
will prevail. Could he have achieved through liberty that pacification which he 
accomplished by authority? Supposing that this great winner of victories had been 
able to triumph over himself, could he at least have granted to the French certain 
political rights, have allowed some control, have called the nation to exercise 
certain liberties, have prepared her for a more intimate knowledge of affairs, thus 
helping her on the way to a more normal destiny? Did such an attempt hold out 
any prospect of success, could it even be undertaken, on the morrow of unheard-of 
convulsions, at a time when the parties of violence were under control rather than 
exterminated, when so few Frenchmen had acquired any feeling and any taste for 
legahty, at a time especially when France, triumphant though she was within her 
extended frontiers and in the wide development of her offensive and defensive 
fronts, nevertheless remained a vast fortress besieged by Europe? If Bonaparte in 
that crisis had made a beginning with the founding of liberty, he would have 
proved himself superior to his age, superior to himself. It is impossible to say 
whether the undertaking would have surpassed his gemus; it was certainly above 

i. i, 81. 



the reach of his character. But while not attempting this, he devoted the respite left 
him by his truce with Europe to proceeding with his work of interior reconstruction 
and to reinfusing order and greatness into all parts of the commonwealth. 

There is no doubt that Vandal means that order and greatness which the ancien 
regime had possessed but which the Revolution had destroyed, and that he is not 
even thinking of liberty. It is praise in which other admirers of Napoleon, who 
admired the Revolution also, could never wholeheartedly join. In any case we 
are thus reminded on the last page of something which was to be learnt from the 
introduction to Napoleon et Alexandre and which was anyhow on general grounds 
to be expected, that the attitude implied by acceptance of fact, and by impatience 
of those ideas which have not managed to impose themselves, goes with a very 
distinct political tendency. 

Part 5 

The Problem of Foreign Policy 


Old Acquaintances 

How far was Napoleon responsible for the wars waged by France under bis 
leadership? What was the aim of his foreign policy’ Had he any aim at all? These 
are questions which arise with any examination of his character and period. We 
have already repeatedly had to touch on them in dealing with the works so far 
discussed. At the turn of the century they were given much attention in his torical 
literature; indeed, the whole discussion concerning Napoleon seemed to be 
revolving round them. Without doing too much violence to the chronological 
pattern of my survey, I can assemble a number of writers (with some of whom 
I have already dealt, while others will be new to us) in connexion with the 
problem of foreign policy, of the wars and their object. 

Let me just recall what older writers thought on these matters. There was agree- 
ment between Bignon, Armand Lefebvre, and Thiers in so far as all three stressed 
the unsoundness of the system, which was outgrowing its strength; yet each had 
his own way of looking at things. 

Bignon gives enthusiastic approval to the first stage of this gigantic growth. 
All breaches of the peace are laid to the account of foreign powers. It is in 1807 
that he begins to have enough. Thiers is even more concerned than he is to prove 
how peace-loving Bonaparte was in his rise, but the date at which Bonaparte 
began to overreach himself he puts somewhat earlier, after Austerlitz. In dis- 
cussing the breaches of peace of 1803 and 1 805, Thiers follows the broad outlines 
of Napoleon’s own presentation. He sees him in a defensive attitude, and what he 
has to defend is France’s power position as built up by the Republic and entrusted 
to him, that is France within her natural frontiers the Rhine and the Alps, and 
outside these boundaries the spheres of influence necessary for her protection. I 
leave on one side for a moment the fact that neither frontiers nor power position 
can seem so ‘natural’ to those who are not French as they were to Frenchmen 
even a century later. (A Dutchman cannot help thinking of Flanders, including 
Zeeland-Flanders and Limburg, all of them incorporated into France, and of the 
military occupation of the Batavian Republic.) I will merely remark that Thiers 
takes leave of the Napoleonic presentation when he sees the effect of intoxication 


induced by success, after Austerlitz, in the overthrow of Prussia and the con- 
struction of a Germany under French hegemony or worse. From that point 
onwards, according to his view - and we have found Bignon making the same 
contrast - Napoleon no longer followed the good French policy, but an exag- 
gerated and untenable one of his own. Even then it might perhaps have been 
possible to maintain in existence the tremendous edifice of a Germany completely 
subjugated to France, by taking all precautions and with the new Tilsit friendship 
with Alexander of Russia. But Napoleon, in his irresistible obsession with power, 
immediately overburdened the structure with the Spanish adventure. From that 
tune on, no further triumphs could prevent the final collapse. The dividing line 
is thus brought forward after all from December 1 805 to 1 807, and the agreement 
with Bignon is complete. 

Armand Lefcbvre, on the contrary, estimated that Napoleon’s foreign policy 
became untenable after the peace of Luneville in 1801. In his view everything is 
dominated by the struggle against Britain. Napoleon himself was of course never 
tired of expressing this view, and for Bignon and Thiers also Britain is the 
principal enemy. Lefebvre, however, went much further than they in giving 
shape and system to the idea. According to him, the First Consul should have 
concentrated all his efforts on that aspect, and should for that purpose have 
sought friendship with Austria, even at the price of the position won in Italy. The 
question of personal responsibility, however, comes less to the fore in Lefebvre’s 
treatment. Bonaparte was war-minded, but the French people too were dr unk 
with glory and sense of power. No one dreamt of giving up Italy. And in any 
case the other powers were always treacherous, or greedy, or so weak as not to 
be worth mentioning (here Bignon and Thiers took much the same view). The 
long-drawn-out struggle, at least after Luneville, was inescapable. Peace had 
become an impossibility, and owing to the position of the irreconcilable and 
impregnable Britam, the outcome was bound to be a disaster for France. Such a 
theory makes it possible to follow Napoleon s career without feeling shocked by 
the spectacle of the incorrigible war-monger: it compels fascinated attention for 
his energy, for his triumphs; and though regret at the approaching doom may be 
bitter, there is no blame for the hero. Lefebvre was not able to deal with the 
defeat, any more than Bignon, but he certainly would not have subscribed to 
Bignon’s contention that Napoleon, had he wished, could have obtained peace 
on tolerable terms in 1813. Thiers, as we know, blamed Napoleon’s conduct 
during that year. We shall see that a generation followed in whose eyes Bignon 
and Thiers were far too ready to desert the Emp eror. 

Lanfrey, on the contrary, is much more critical in his judgement of Napoleon’s 
foreign policy than these older writers. There is no question with him of any 
fatalistic theory such as would eliminate personal responsibility. But he differs on 



principle from Bignon, and Thiers too, in that he draws no line and chooses no 
date before which he can approve and after wdnch he condemns. In his view 
Napoleon never sincerely wanted peace. His whole career, even before he became 
First Consul, and before in that capacity he gave France these ardently desired 
but totally deceptive peace treaties of Luneville and Amiens, shows him as un- 
controllably ambitious, as a man living for power and to obtain more power, as 
one who would not rest while anything or anybody remained standing beside 
him. The war with Britain in 1803 was willed by Bonaparte; he only wished to 
give the French people the impression that he had wanted to avoid it. In 1805 he 
as it were deliberately exacerbated the feelings of Austria and Russia, especially by 
the threat to Naples. That restless extension in peacetime of France’s sphere of 
influence at the expense of the small states was unbearable to the Great Powers. 
And in the end it was with real joy that Napoleon led to the Danube the army 
which had for so long been encamped near Boulogne. His British invasion scheme 
had revealed itself as increasingly impracticable as time went on, and now Traf- 
algar had made it finally hopeless. A continental war was for him a welcome way 
out of an awkward situation. And so time and again, down to the final disaster. 
Napoleon’s wars were his own wars, made inevitable by his measureless greed 
for power, wars which never served the interests of France, wars for which the 
deceived and all too patient nation paid with the blood of its sons and in the end 
with the territorial gains won by the Republic. 


The first important contribution to the problem made in the nineties - important 
because it was a detailed and thorough study of one important diplomatic 
episode, based on original research in the archives - was Vandal’s book Napoleon 
et Alexandre Ier. To outline this, or even to summarize his story, would carry me 
far beyond the scope of my work. I have already (p. 86) used his book to correct 
Lanfrey’s picture of a practically unsuspicious Alexander attacked in 1812 by 
Napoleon. Here I am concerned only with the general conclusions which the 
writer draws from his study - or which inspired him in it - and which are to be 
found in his introduction or scattered through the bulky volumes (there are 
three, each of five hundred large pages). The very first sentence of the introduc- 
tion aroused controversy when the book appeared. 1 It was indeed challenging. 

Throughout the whole of his reign Napoleon pursued one unchanging objective 
in Ills foreign policy: to secure, by a genuine peace with England, stability for his 
achievement, the greatness of France, and the peace of the world. 

In one spring we are back in the Napoleonic legend. Thiers was much more 

1. Sorel says this in his Lectures historiques , p. 172. 



independent and critical of it, and even Lefebvre, though he brings Britain no 
less to the fore, does not take the fine phrases about peace too seriously. No doubt 
peace is always the object of war - the only question is what sort of peace. Some 
settlements are productive of nothing but more wars; Napoleon’s vision of a 
world order based on the supremacy of France was such a peace. (Though I am 
prepared to accept the reality of this vision in the dreamer’s mind, I cannot admit 
that it was the real motive force of his restless activity and daemonic struggle. 
Indeed I regard it rather as the subsequent justification and rationalization of that 
elemental urge.) Vandal too realizes that not everything m Napoleon’s methods 
was suitable for winning Europe over to his ideal. When Alexander at Erfurt 
was already showing a certain reserve towards the friend on whom he lavished 
admiration in public, Vandal reflects that Napoleon was here paying for his 
dictatorial action of the preceding year, for the violence with which he had 
attacked princes and peoples (this refers, of course, to Bayonne). This ‘cast a veil 
over the ultimate justice and grandeur of bis aim, world pacification ’. 1 

World pacification - to be obtained first and foremost by applying every 
means to make Britain accept a peace (that is by bringing Britain to her knees). 
Every means ! First of all this requires an ally, a reliable ally, ‘who could secure 
the obedience of the continent so that he might give his mind to the naval 
struggle’. He sought this ally everywhere, ‘and everywhere he met only dis- 
loyalty’. By disloyalty, if we look closely, the writer means the reluctance to 
acquiesce in the conquests which France ‘had obtained by fifteen years of battle 
and heroic courage ’. 3 He thought he had found him in Alexander, and he 
imagined he could attach the Tsar to himself by holding out the prospect of a 
share in the spoils of the ramshackle Ottoman Empire, whose falling to pieces he 
now anticipated, though he had got it on his side against Russia not long before 
by exhorting it to fight for its future and its faith. This was the purpose to be 
achieved with the help of Alexander. But when Alexander became suspicious, 
not without reason, and no longer wholeheartedly took part in the blockade of 
Britain, it was once more to be fulfilled by turning against Alexander ; Russia, too, 
was to be subjected. In thus working for ‘world pacification’, he treated the rest 
of Europe with even less ceremony. It had to take its chance. Holland was put 
under one brother, and when he proved disobedient, was annexed. Poland was 
lured with promises of freedom, or once more suppressed, because Russia so 
desired. Italy, Germany . . . But is it necessary seriously to demonstrate the folly 
of the view that a peaceful world might be constructed in this manner? Only a 
narrow nationahsm, without imagination where the feelings of other peoples 
are concerned, or else a blind behef in the miraculous effects of power, can 

i. i, 439. 2. 1, 4 6. 



have enabled anyone to advance such extreme opinions as late as the year 
1S90. 1 

But in the end Vandal does not hide from himself the fact that all these great 
schemes ‘are but the outcome of the necessities of the Emperor’s struggle with 
Britain’. We cannot share the view which Napoleon (and his admirer) had of 
Britain, that is of a mischievous extra-European power from winch must be 
wrested the peace which it grudges our continent . 2 Given, however, that irrecon- 
cilable struggle, whatever one’s views of its rights or wrongs, there is something 
striking about tins idea that the whole policy of Napoleon was shaped by its 

The government of Napoleon has been nothing less than a twelve-year battle 
fought all over the world against the English. His campaigns were no isolated and 
independent actions, after the conclusion of which he might have hammered 111 the 
boundary stakes of his domain and put a stop to the bloodshed. They formed the 
indissolubly connected parts of a single whole, of one and the same war, m which 
our nation finally fell, trampled on by Europe, after having swept into and recon- 
structed it, a war in which France was defeated but in which the French idea was 

I do not intend to give more from Vandal’s first work than this suggestion. It 
was not of course origmal. It too harks back to Napoleon’s own propaganda. Nor 
was Vandal the first to have formulated it in historical terms. In spite of his inner 
contradictions, Lefebvre might he called a forerunner. But no less a person than 
Ranke, towards the end of his life, wrote in this same strain in an essay where with 
the typically conservative annoyance at the arrogance of a radical intellectual he 
tried to defend Napoleon when Lanfrey accused him of being bellicose and 
animated by a conqueror’s greed. We shall meet the suggestion again as the 
leitmotiv of the great work of Sorel which I shall presently examine. 

1. It deserves to be noted that in Napoleon’s own time his ‘universalist’ aims were 
certainly taken seriously, even in Germany, or one might say particularly in Germany, a 
Germany not yet become nationalistic. Thus a German philosopher, Krause, in 1811 - 
just in tim e - constructed an entire theory concerning the development of history and 
of humanity upon this. See J. B. Manger, Thorbecke en de historie, p. 28. 

2. ‘Pour arxacher la paix a l’Angleterre et la donner au monde, il sentait le besoin . . .* 

2 Emile Bourgeois 


Before Sorcl had given his ideas on Napoleon their full form, however, a very 
different note was sounded in the Manuel de politique etiangere by Emile Bour- 
geois, 1 the relevant volume of which (the second) appeared m 1898, and which 
to this day has found numbers of readers for its many editions. The book is more 
than its title indicates, it is more than a handbook, being based on original 
research and presenting its own view of the development and significance of the 
events described. 

Bourgeois will have none of that historical necessity to which Vandal sees 
Napoleon subjugated, and which for him determines both his tragic greatness 
and Ins indissoluble connexion with the French people. In Bourgeois’s account 
the young conqueror, from the moment when as a plain general in Italy he took 
the control of foreign policy out of the hands of the Directorate, appears as a 
personal and an amazingly dynamic factor - from the French point of view a 
disturbing factor. 

Even before he became First Consul, according to this theory, Bonaparte’s 
tempestuous will, fed by his quite personal and fantastic ambition, forced history 
off its normal course. The Italian conquests gave him the chance to make a great 
position for himself. The bartering of Venice, where he had fostered riots that he 
might strike it down, was to assure temporarily the acquiescence of Austria. By 
the coup d'etat of Fructidor (see pp. 77, 89) he broke all resistance in Paris against 
liis self-willed conduct and his incalculable plans. And indeed in the meantime 
Ms real purpose had taken on body, the dream of his life had begun to stir, when 
by occupying Ancona (in the Papal States) and the Ionian Islands (Venetian 
territory), he set foot on the Adriatic (see p. 88) and saw within his grasp the east, 
the extensive, ramshackle and half-decomposed Ottoman Empire. 2 ‘In the 
Orient alone are great empires possible today,’ he said to his boyhood friend 
Bourr ienne. The Egyptian expedition of the following year was truly his own 
undertaking, though when it went wrong it suited his purpose to make it appear 

1. Member of the Institute Professor of Modem and Contemporary History at the 
University of Paris, Professor at L’£cole libre des Sciences pohtiques. 

2. Manuel , 11, 164 £f. 



as if the ‘lawyers’ of the Directorate had sent him there to get rid of him, even 
at the expense of France. Tins is the account m the Menioi ial 1 and we have already 
had an echo m Balzac’s story for the peasants. 

A reckless adventure, this expedition, not only because it deprived France of 
an army winch she needed badly when faced with the Second Coahtion, but also 
because that emergency was itself provoked by it : it was that stirring up of the 
eastern basin of the Mediterranean which drove Russia to side with Britain. 

The First Consul did not relinquish the eastern ambitions of General Bonaparte. 
The peace of Amiens, on winch the French people built such joyful hopes, was 
never regarded by him as anything but a truce. 2 Wilfully, deliberately, for the 
sake of Malta (and that meant Egypt), Bonaparte moved towards a renewal of the 
war. But he could not show lhs hand to the people of France. What was the use of 
Egypt to them, and what did they care about it? 

At tills decisive moment, when France out of gratitude for the peace threw 
herself into his arms, it was his requital to drag her under false pretences into war. 
Nobody ever understood better the art of making men’s passions serve his personal 
aims. The higher ~ patriotism, love of glory - he abused; the lower - hatred, pride, 
vamty - he excited. He will take good care not to incur the blame for a useless war 
as did the Directors, a war against tradition for the possession of Egypt. Inces- 
santly he points out England to the French as the false and faithless enemy, enemy 
of their new institutions and of their peace. He will manage to have England 
declare war on him, in order to be able to pose before the French as the champion 
of national independence and greatness. So well did he succeed m persuading them 
of this, that to this day more than one historian remains convinced of the arguments 
which he dished up to our ancestors. 

Bonaparte, as Bourgeois expresses it in an old-fasMoned term, has his ‘secret*. 
It was something very different from that ‘world pacification’ towards wHch 
Vandal sees him striving. According to Bourgeois, he follows Ins eastern plan 
with unfailing pertinacity, meanwhile telling the French one story or another. 
Elis camp at Boulogne was certainly more than a feint, yet Ms thoughts were with 
the occupation (winch he set in train at the same time) of Tarento, Otranto, and 
Brindisi as ports from which to attack Turkey. The German secularizations 
winch had meanwMle materialized as a result of the peace of Luneville were 
popular with the French. It suggested a continuation of Louis XIV’s tradition, 
tliis demolition of Austrian-Habsburg influence in Germany and tMs creation of 
French ties. Bonaparte’s imperial title too seemed a victory over the Habsburgs. 
It was in tMs way that Napoleon carried the French with him in Ms policy of 
adventurism. Already in May 1804 the Prussian ambassador had observed that 

1. Manuel , 11, 188. 2. op. cit. p. 232. 



the new Emperor wanted war on the continent , m other words that he wanted to 
be rid of Boulogne and the hopeless invasion scheme. 

The French [Bourgeois writes], whom he needed as tools, he tempted by the 
offer of Ger man y through an imperial title consecrated by the Pope. His own 
share was the completion of Italian unity [through the attack on the Kingdom of 
Naples], mtended to put him in a better position for driving the English from 
Malta and the Russians from Corfu. 1 

And indeed, by his activities and mischief-making in Italy and his preparations 
for a further thrust to the east, he obtained his wish of shifting the theatre of war. 
The Austro-Russian alliance, entirely brought into existence by Napoleon’s 
provocations, laid down that Russia was to guarantee Austria s position in Italy, 
while Austria guaranteed the integrity of Tuikey for the benefit of Russia. It was 
not Germany, concludes Bourgeois, that was at stake in the war of 1805, it was 


Napoleon moved with lightning rapidity against his new enemies. Before the 
Russians and Austrians had joined up, he had encircled a Russian army at Ulm 
and forced it to capitulate. Even before he had followed this up by winning his 
most famous battle, that of Austerlitz, on 2 December, against the now united 
Emperors of Russia and Austria, Talleyrand sent him a note from Strasbourg on 
17 October 1805 pressmg him to offer peace to Austria without further humilia- 
tion or defeat, so as to draw her away from Russia and make her join hands with 
him to defend Europe against ‘the barbarians’. After Austerlitz he again urged 
that action should be taken on the lines of his note. His advice has Bourgeois’s 
fullest sympathy. Talleyrand appeared, he says, at that juncture as ‘the interpreter 
of the nation’s wishes and as advocate of her interests’. 2 This famous Strasbourg 
note is not always so whole-heartedly appreciated. In any case it is a fact that 
Talleyrand did not make any impression on Napoleon. How could it be other- 
wise? argues Bourgeois. For the means proposed by Talleyrand to persuade 
Austria to acquiesce in the loss of Italy, and to break her connexion with Russia, 
was to offer her the mouths of the Danube (Moldavia and Wallachia), in other 
words to lead her on upon the road to the east which Napoleon wished above all 
to keep for himself. Thus the peace of Pressburg, to which Austria had to agree - 
while Alexander, having escaped with his badly battered army back to Russian 
soil, continued the war - took on an entirely different character. This peace was 
calculated to reduce Austria to impotence. She was excluded not only from 
1. Manuel , 11, 253. 2. n, 257. 



Germany and Italy, but by the loss of Istria and Dalmatia she was also prevented 
from closing the Adriatic and kept away from the gate to the east. 

In the peace of Pressburg French opinion saw chiefly the final victory over the 
Habsburgs in Germany. This flattered French pride, all the more when by the 
establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine it was followed by the complete 
subjugation of Germany to France. Prussia remained for the moment outside 
this arrangement, but Prussia too - winch in increasing fear of Napoleon’s 
apparently unlimited ambitions had been on the point of siding with Russia and 
Austria - was forced by threats and the consolation prize of British Hanover into 
a new alliance which left her little independence. But here too Bourgeois sees 
Napoleon’s ultimate purpose as the east, and we begin to suspect Bourgeois of 
being the slave of his system. According to him, the most important demand 
made of Prussia was not the closing of her coast to the British but the promise of 
help in maintaining the integrity of Turkey. This polite formula really covered 
intentions against Turkey, whose impending dissolution was admitted by all ; and 
by involving Prussia, Russia was to be completely isolated. 1 At the same time - 
another pointer towards the east - immediately after the peace of Pressburg the 
continental portion of the Kingdom of Naples, hitherto protected by Russia and 
Britain, was completely occupied. 

After his incredible achievements, and with France so much impressed that she 
was willing to swallow even the establishment of the Family Empire and of the 
Venetian and Neapolitan mayoralties for his generals and oflicials, Napoleon 
could imagine himself to be in a position to realize his dream. 2 

That dream was not, as has been asserted, a complete revenge on England. Nor 
was it world empire, a vague ambition unsuited to his exact and matter-of-fact 
mind. In the camp of Boulogne, during the first advance of the Grande Armee , at 
Austerlitz, and in the negotiations of Pressburg and of Schoenbrunn, when he 
incites the French against England, the Habsburgs, Russia, always the Emperor has 
his secret, to extend his Italian conquests, acquired in the service of France, down to 
the Adriatic, whose coast he has occupied, under the same cover, but always for 
himself alone, in order to get closer to the Near East, which he cannot reach by sea 
any more, since his reverse in Egypt and the loss of Malta. 

At that moment when Napoleon’s power was evolving in so fantastic a 
fashion, in 1806, Britain and Russia sent negotiators to Paris to discuss peace 
terms, simultaneously but independently. Bourgeois brings out what an impor- 
tant part the integrity of Turkey once more played in these extraordinarily in- 
volved negotiations. The complications were equalled by the bad faith. Napoleon 
offered Britain Hanover, which he had just given to Prussia. The Balearics, 
belonging to another ally, Spain, he used without notifying her as a prospective 

1. n, 270 £f. 2. 11, 265 fif. 

22 % 


compensation to the Neapolitan Bourbons for Sicily, should Russia agree to 
allow them to be deprived of that territory as well. It all came to nothing. 
Anxious Prussia secretly sought protection from Russia, and when the British, 
who m Napoleon had let slip in hope of reaching agreement with Russia, informed 
her of Napoleon’s offer of Hanover, Prussia, in a mixture of panic and fury, 
tlirew herself definitely on the side of Alexander. Perhaps Alexander had never 
taken seriously the treaty already signed in his name in Paris. In any case he did 
not ratify it now; and Napoleon, with all his deception rudely torn asunder - 
for even Spain heard what her mighty ally had been plotting - had nothing left 
save his sword, which indeed he handled with consummate mastery. In a few 
weeks Prussia was beaten and he was victorious in Berlin. 

But the King had sought sanctuary with Alexander, and as long as Alexander 
continued the war, nothing had been achieved. By appeals and fine protesta- 
tions in oriental style (‘Fate has chosen me to save the Ottoman Empire’ is only 
one example of this), Napoleon actually succeeded in getting Selim, Sultan of 
Turkey, to take action against Russia. He even went to work on Persia. He 
flattered the Poles by playing on the theme of their recently lost national inde- 
pendence, though ready quite shamelessly to betray them to Prussia or to Russia 
if the need arose. It was proving a hard winter for the French army in the distant, 
cold, and barren land of east Prussia. The battle of Eylau, in February 1807, in 
which the losses were exceptionally heavy, remained in fact indecisive. Napoleon 
kept an anxious eye on France. What were the people thinking of this latest 
and unforeseen adventure? He pleaded that he had never wanted the war with 
Prussia, which in the narrowest sense was true. But had he not created the atmo- 
sphere of greed and suspicion from which it arose? He did his best to turn atten- 
tion to Britain. The blockade of Britain, established in November 1806 in 
Berlm, was (still according to Bourgeois) intended to explain the necessity of 
his lordmg it along the Baltic coast. The colonies were to he reconquered from 
Britain on the Oder. 1 But finally the Emperor allowed Talleyrand to explain 
to the Senate that it was all about the integrity of Turkey. Bourgeois comments: 

After having dragged the nation along by means of her hatred of England and of 
the glory resulting from the conquest of the natural frontiers and of the imperial 
title once belonging to Habsburg alone, Napoleon fixes on the Vistula a new 
objective for her patriotism: the maintenance of the Ottoman Empire. He pictures 
that policy to her as vital for the preservation of her southern trade and even for the 
safety of her frontiers. The Russians in Constantinople would mean before long 
‘ Those fanatics, those barbarians in our provinces . . 

The Press received precise instructions to write on these lines. Napoleon was 

1. n, 2S5. 



in a tense and restless mood. As in Paris in 1806, lie still wanted a compromise 
with Alexander. After Eylau he even made a great show of horror at the fright- 
fulness of the battlefield: ‘ His soul’, as Vandal writes, ‘was sincerely moved . . .’* 
There was, however, no evidence of this sincere compassion in June 1807, after 
Friedland, when he was finally able to beat Alexander completely. 

Then came the sudden change, the romantic meeting between the two Em- 
perors on a raft on the Niemen at Tilsit, and the friendslnp which was to dom- 
inate the world, hi spite of all the demonstrations of affection, in spite of a mutual 
show of spontaneous enjoyment of each other’s company, it was a friendship 
full of reserves. The unfortunate King of Prussia had to give up all his territories 
west of the Elbe, as well as his newly acquired Polish lands. The Grand duchy 
of Warsaw which was thus established was also a possible weapon against 

But the friendship was to be crowned by grandiose schemes concerning the 
East. Selim’s fall, as a result of a rising of the Janissaries, eased Napoleon’s con- 
science with regard to the ally (Vandal says this without irony) 2 whom he had 
so recently assured that he regarded himself as ordained by Fate to save the Otto- 
man Empire. He now exclaimed to the Tsar, as if carried away by this news 
(though it was already known to him, he had the report given him, and received 
it as a surprise, in the other’s presence): ‘This is a decree of Providence [the 
word ‘ fate though suitable for Constantinople, might here have sounded rather 
unchristian], it tells me that the Ottoman Empire can no longer exist. ’2 Vandal 
describes Alexander as hanging on Napoleon’s lips and fired by Napoleon’s 
imaginative eloquence to fresh dreams of eastern expansion.* Once more ‘the 
barbarians’ were the enemy, but this time they were the Turks. 

Vandal’s view of these matters is very different from that of Bourgeois. 
According to him, as we know, Napoleon was the instrument of France’s 
destiny, and he rejects any assumption of an individual and un-French imperial 
policy. Thus he considers that Napoleon’s mind had not been governed by 
eastern ambitions save during his Egyptian expedition. Since then he had used 
the East only ‘by way of diversion or compromise; it was on that terrain that 
he hoped to divide our enemies, to break up the coalition by depriving it of 
one of its members, by drawing to himself one of the major powers, no matter 
which, and so finally to forge that great alliance which he needed in order to 
dominate the continent and conquer England.’ 5 Not only was the coalition 
against France, which Britain again and again had sought to establish, broken 
by the Tilsit friendship, but Prussia and Austria were forced and Russia prevailed 
upon to act against Britain. 

I. Napoleon et Alexandre Ier, 1, 37. 2. ibid, 1, 73. 3. Manuel, n, 292. 

4. Napolion et Alexandre Ier, 1, 3. 5. Manuel , 11, 293. 

R - N.F.A. - H 



It cannot "be denied that this was the result of Tilsit, but it need hardly be said 
that Bourgeois does not for a moment hesitate to declare Napoleon’s ultimate 
and real aim to be conquests in the east: Constantinople, which he was not m 
any case going to leave to his new friend; Egypt; India . . . Only he was not yet 
ready for these far-reaching schemes. First he had to strengthen his naval position 
in the Mediterranean, and place Spain under a trustworthy administration - a 
mere trifle, this last item ! It was tiresome, meanwhile, that Alexander was im- 
patient and had to be held back. When it became obvious that Spain was no 
trifle but a miscalculation which once more gave courage to humiliated Austria, 
the rift in the friendship with Alexander became wider just at the moment when 
it should have held firm. Erfurt did not heal it. In the new war with Austria 
in 1809 Napoleon was practically left in the lurch by his ally. 

After stupendous efforts, he was victorious once more. And what did he 
demand at the peace? Illyria, that is Carintliia and Croatia south of the Save. 
Dalmatia, Istria, and the islands (acquired at Pressburg in 1805) were not enough 
for liis schemes. He had to have a wide and safe land route to the Ottoman 
Empire, one which was not too liable to be cut by Austria. 1 


Again, therefore, according to Bourgeois’s interpretation, the lure of the east ! 
But in the years immediately following it was still not possible to take the road 
thither which had just been opened. There was Spain, and in particular there 
were the relations with Alexander, which kept deteriorating. The danger of a 
resurrected Poland hostile to himself made the Tsar doubly distrustful. Finally 
the moment came when Napoleon made ready to take up his tried sword, always 
his last resort, against his opponent the sometime Tilsit friend, blocking the route 
to the east. The Poles must play their part. 

To awaken the national fibre of that nation, to carry it with me ... I like the Poles 
on the battlefield: they furnish it well . . .* 

Poland was only a means. Moscow was to open the door to his life’s dream, 
Asia, the Balkans; and if he had to give up Poland to the Tsar, after initial vic- 
tories, or use it to buy the good will of his refractory ally Austria, why not? 

Thus to the very last Bourgeois shows Napoleon as dominated by that single 
idea, the east. Even after the disaster of 1 8 12, during the negotiations with Metter- 
mch m the summer of 1 8 13 , when Austria, having resumed its freedom of action, 
has to be prevented from aligning itself irrevocably with the coalition of Russia, 
Prussia, and Britain, Napoleon cannot bring himself to restore Illyria, and thus 

2. Manuel, 11, 430. 2. Manuel, n, 495 S. 

22 6 


throws away his last chance and with it the last chance of France to retain the 
power with which she had entrusted herself to the First Consul. 

He pictures Mettemich as an agent of England; it is his theme and, to the last, 
his pretext. To hand over to Austria Illyria, perhaps Venice, his share of dreams and 
of ambition - never! Sooner ask France, while exploiting her, to make a last 
sacrifice: ‘A man like me is hardly concerned about a million lives.’ 1 [Words winch 
Napoleon is alleged to have spoken in his last conversation with Mettemich.] 

The passages in which Bourgeois emphasizes Napoleon’s eastern ambitions 
and the way in which he hoodwmked the French people, I have picked out 
from his narrative, winch in so doing I have perhaps made to appear unduly 
simplified and emphatic. Nevertheless he stated his views without ambiguity 
No reader of his book can for a moment be in doubt what he ascribed to Napo- 
leon and what he blamed him for. Napoleon abused the trust placed in him 
by the French people, he was responsible for the war and the disasters, and Ins 
motive was not any concern for French interests, however eloquently he spoke 
about them, but his own personal fantastic longing for the east. I shall not now 
discuss this interpretation of Napoleon’s foreign policy. When I come shortly 
to expound the systems of Sorel and of Driault, it will inevitably be tested. 

I. Manuel, ix, 520. 

3 Two More Old Acquaintances 

Before I come to Sorel, I must recall the conceptions of Masson, and deal 
briefly with a book, in which the author of Napolion intime , ten years after the 
appearance of that work, set himself to deal with the problem of Napoleon’s 
foreign policy. 


We already know (see p. 1 89 ff.) that Masson had dealt at length with foreign policy 
in volumes III and IV of hi * Napoleon etsa famille, and that he gave Ins own inter- 
pretations, winch do not agree too well with one another. It is possible to gather 
from those thirteen volumes that the true motive force of Napoleon’s European 
policy was his family sense. On this showing, the Emperor did not so much use 
his brothers to administer le Grand Empire ; he undertookliis wars, and founded the 
empire on the fruits of his victories, in order to provide thrones for his brothers. 
The idea will be remembered from Balzac’s story (p. 28) ; it seems somewhat in 
conflict with more authentic versions of the Napoleonic legend, although Balzac’s 
veteran and his peasant audience found in it nothing to offend them. But m the 
introduction to his eighth volume (pubhshed in 1906) Masson takes the com- 
pletely different viewpoint advanced by Vandal. Napoleon’s policy and his 
wars are no longer determined by his omnipotent will. The Emperor and 
France are prisoners of the iron necessity of the struggle with Britain. Probably 
it was under the influence not of Vandal but of Sorel that Masson wrote in tins 
strain. No one else at any rate worked up the theme of the implacable conflict 
between France and Britain to such a hymn of hate, even though his outburst 
can certainly be regarded as typical of feelings which no doubt Napoleon found 
in existence but which he subsequently fanned so successfully that even at the 
present day they have not lost their hold on the French mind. 

But there is another aspect of Masson’s view of Napoleon as a European 
figure, to which I have only referred in passing when dealing with his work 
but which deserves more emphasis here. He sees in linn the hberator of the 

When Napoleon returns from Elba and Louis XVIII is forced to flee, Europe 
- still assembled at Vienna - has no thought of recognizing the Emperor. It 



excommunicates him, and at the same time, according to Masson (who, however, 
is quite wrong here), the sovereigns declare themselves ready to afford assistance 
to each government for the mamtcnance of the threatened order of things. 1 

Thus [Masson continues] his worst enemies enunciated, more eloquently than 
his most faithful friends could have done, this truth with respect to Napoleon, that 
his cause is the nation’s cause; if he should fail, no nation will have the right to 
dispose of itself; each nation belongs to its sovereign . . .; all the principles pro- 
claimed by the Revolution, popular sovereignty and national mdepcndence, will 
be compromised by his fall, saved by his triumph. The doctrine of the Holy 
Alliance is here already fully expressed, and the oppression of the peoples depends 
on whether Napoleon will vanquish or be defeated. 

This view forms an integral part of the Napoleonic legend. For half a century 
after the Congress of Vienna it continued to exert an influence in Europe. 
Even in more recent times it can be traced in the work of French historians. 2 
Yet the Dutchman, who remembers what happened to his countrymen under 
Napoleon, will find it difficult even to understand how such an idea could ever 
be formed. And indeed, one has to think of other parts of Europe - of Poland, 
of Italy, even of west and south Germany. And if here, too, objections crowd 
upon one’s mind, one has to look at the period after the fall of Napoleon, a 
period of bitter disillusionment for all these peoples, of longing for a change, 
for liberation, and for national unity. The legend then becomes at least intel- 

I shall be dealing with the problems which arise in connexion with this when 
I come to another writer, Dnault. 

In 1902 Arthur-Levy published a second book, Napoleon et la paix. Much more 
ambitious than Napoleon intime , it was not nearly so successful an achievement. 
The writer’s blind partiality and lack of critical acumen are even more in evi- 
dence here. The book is in fact only an extremely detailed study (of 650 pages) 
of diplomatic relations with Prussia in the years 1806 and 1807, although pre- 
sented to the reader as a demonstration of the truth that throughout his career 
Napoleon pursued no other aim but peace. Arthur-Levy expresses this idea in 
an even more provocative way than Vandal: 

During the whole of his reign his sole aim was to arrive at a just and lasting peace 
which would ensure to France that status to which she is entitled. 

1. Napoleon et safamille, xi, 22; see remark at the end of note on p. 189 ff above. 

2. See e g. in Lavisse, Histoire de la France contemporame, volume on La Restauration 
(1924), by Charlcty, p. 7 6: ‘Vainqueurs avec la France pendant vmgt-cmq ans, la 
Revolution et les peuples etaient vaincus par sa defaite.’ 



Of course one feels at once prompted to ask, to wliat status is France entitled? 
How far should the interests of other nations be subordinated to French claims? 
Writers of other nationalities are likely to disagree with Napoleon and with 
Arthur-Levy as to the answer, though fortunately there have been French writers 
too who realized that this is indeed the crux of the matter and that a statement 
such as the one quoted has no meaning. 1 

Arthur-Levy continues: 

England’s unchanging rivalry, the terror of ancient thrones at the spectacle of a 
dynasty sprung up overnight, the hope of throwing up a dam agamst the spread of 
libertarian ideas, and the secret appetites of all, those were the elements out of 
which the successive coalitions were forged and against which Napoleon’s pacific 
attempts were ever in vain. 

Arthur-Levy really attempts no more than to confirm by means of the facts 
the statements of the great man himself. The Memorial is his bible. What did 
Napoleon say at St Helena? 

All my victories and all my conquests were won in self-defence. This is a truth 
which time will render every day more evident. Europe never ceased from warring 
against France, against French principles, and against me, so we had to strike down 
in order not to be struck down. The coalition continued without interruption, be 
it open or in secret, admitted or denied; it was there in permanence. It depended 
solely on the allies to give us peace. 3 

So in his book the writer is concerned to show how false and untrustworthy were 
the Prussians (whom he disliked even more than he did the British, although 
they too are roughly handled). His task in this was not a difficult one, for the 
Prussians were greedy for their own advancement and at the same time were in 
an extremely dangerous position in 1806, which made them wriggle desperately 
from one side to the other. But next he sets himself to bring out that Napoleon 
was the kindest, most easy-going, and gentlest creature alive. This too was not 
difficult to justify, for in his public speeches and even in his correspondence 
the Emperor liked to show himself in this guise, and whatever he says is trust- 
ingly accepted by his eulogist, who at the same time does not take the least notice 
of circumstances which might excuse a contrary opinion. In the end, with all 
his long narrative and his emphatic statements and moralizing, he has not proved 
a thing. 

It is amusing to notice that here too, as in Napolion intime with regard to the 
ministers and the marshals, he laments feelingly on the damage Napoleon did 

1. P. Caron expresses this view in a review of the book in the Revue d’histoire moderns 
et contemporaine, iv, 121. 

2. Quoted m Napolion et la paix , p. 257. 



himself by Ms excessive tolerance. Tolerance, he means, towards the old dyn- 
asties, for winch Napoleon cherished an ineradicable respect. The writer even 
ventures to chide his god for not annihilating once and for all the monarchies 
which victory laid at his feet, as he should have done, had he understood better 
the interest of France. How many princes could he not have sent to distant islands, 
as they sent him in the hour of his defeat? Had he done this, the coalitions would 
not have been renewed against him every four years . 1 * Such a conception of 
international policy is of course childish. As if, even as it was, Napoleon had not 
extended his empire beyond his power, and as if ‘annihilation’, banishment, 
extirpation, and annexation were a sufficient cure for all diseases and disasters. 

One is tempted to accuse the writer of out-Napoleoning Napoleon. But 
no! Here too he finds confirmation from St Helena. 

I may [says Napoleon to Las Cases, and Arthur-Levy concludes his book with the 
quotation 3 ] I may in the name of the sovereigns have been called ‘a modem 

Attila ’ and ‘ a Robespierre on horseback ’ ; if they would but search their hearts they 
would know better. Had I been such, perhaps I should be reigning still, but so 
much is certain - they would long since have ceased to reign. 

I. p. 161. 2. p. 653. 

4 Albert Sorel 


Albert Sorel was a great figure as a historian, and the influence he exercised 
is considerable. His chief work, YEurope et la Revolution Jrangaise, began to 
appear in 1885 with an introductory volume reviewing the tendency, spirit, 
and methods of French and European foreign policy under the ancien regime , 
and this reveals the author’s reading and his impressive powers of constructive 
imagination. By 1892 three further volumes had appeared. These gave a de- 
tailed diplomatic history of the Constituante, the Legislative, and the Convention , 
covering the years from 1789 to 1795. A close organic link was maintained with 
the general development of the Revolution, and in particular with its ideas and 
its spirit. After ten years’ silence, four volumes appeared at brief intervals in 
1903 and 1904. Under the same title, YEurope et la Revolution frangaise, these 
dealt for the most part with the foreign policy of Napoleon. 

Sorel had joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just before 1870. A young 
and promising lawyer, his experiences there had an abiding influence on him 
and his work, although after a few years, and in spite of tempting offers from 
Gambetta, he chose a professorial career. 1 He developed consciously and with 
conviction into the exponent not of this or that party but of tradition and of 
the raison d’Etat A highly cultured man, subtly sensitive to ideas and to form, 
a brilliant stylist who like his venerated senior and friend, Taine, combined a 
passion for system and synthesis with great powers of plastic expression and 
creation, he saw forces at work in history other than those of the mind, im- 
personal forces which cared not for the mind, which indeed used it for their 
ends. The spectacle did not rouse his soul to opposition. For him true states- 
manship consisted in the recognition of these forces and alliance with them. 

This attitude had made it possible for him (how unlike Taine !) to consider 
the Revolution sine ira ac studio , and to perceive that its foreign policy formed 
no breach with the past, that those humanitarian impulses which would have 
meant such a breach stopped short at words, and that the longing for natural 
frontiers which took the place of these impulses had deep roots in the methods 
and outlook of the monarchy. In that famous first volume, he displayed a wealth 

1. But it should be noticed that he was Professor at the Ecole libre des Sciences politicoes, 
that is to say, not under the auspices of the University. 



of precedents from the monarchy for everything which the violent years of the 
Legislative and the Convention were to bring forth, for the most revolutionary- 
sounding slogans, for all the brutalities, for all the encroachments on European 
international law, which its contemporaries so bitterly blamed the French 
Republic for. Conversely, in the later volumes, he was continually at pains to 
show how great a role was played during the Revolution by the legistes, the 
lawyers, a class of men always regarded as typical of the methods of the ancien 
regime , and how much use was made of their juridical arguments and hair- 
splittings. In thus bringing out the continuity of French lustory - m representing 
the Revolution as merely quickening tendencies and strivings which had deter- 
mined the life of the French nation under the monarchy too, as having been 
slowly prepared under those totally different auspices - Sorel is doing for foreign 
policy what Tocqueville, in his surprisingly perceptive book published as early 
as 1856, had done for social and administrative conditions. 1 2 3 

From what has been said concerning his attitude to mental forces in relation 
to raison d’Etat and tradition, concerning his realism, it will be readily under- 
stood that he did not share the objections of Mme de Stael and ofTaine. He gave 
sketches of both authors, sparkling with sympathy and understanding, but re- 
jected the judgement of each on Napoleon, and for the same reason. 

The crisis that was beginning [he says in his short study of Mme de Stael] was not 
a matter of wit, eloquence, or cabales; it was a matter of state, the most formidable 
ever witnessed, and it needed not those vam Pompeys and Ciceros whom Mme de 
Stael never ceased to worship, but some of those Sullas and Caesars whom she 
always abhorred . . . Her conscience was too fair, her heart too full of pity, her soul 
of dehcacy ; she was capable neither of leading men, nor of exploiting their weak- 
nesses and utilizing their vices. To spare someone suffering seemed to her the acme 
of human activity. Reason of state seemed to her a blasphemy. The word State in 
itself contained something harsh and tyrannical which repelled her . . . She loved 
nothing but freedom. . . , a 

Mme de Stael, he wrote somewhat farther on, was less able than most to 
recognize the Caesar to whom France was about to give birth. 

There is a fundamental error in her judgement concerning the Revolution . . . Of 
the two aims of the Revolution that matter, civil liberty and political liberty, the 
reformation of society and of the State, she was moved only by the second, while 
the great majority of Frenchmen were excited only by the firsts 

(Here we have already a pronouncement on this problem, and we know that 
it was not for Sorel that Quinet had written. He includes in this judgement the 

1. V ancien Regime et la Revolution. 

2. In Les grands ecrivains frangais, 1890, p. 33. 

3. ibid. p. 38. 



entire party of ‘Mme de Stael and her friends*, the liberals, and this, according 
to him, is the reason why this party, ‘distinguished though it was*, never came 
into power. 

They did not understand that France, left to her own devices, was transforming 
herself into a democracy in accordance with her instincts, impelled by her past and 
by the education she had received from her kings. The Roman liberty of the 
members of the Convention, the civic liberty of the Consulate, the people’s 
obedience to the Cotnite de salut public, Bonaparte’s popularity and his omnipotence, 
all this remained to the end inexplicable to those noble and ingenious thinkers. 
They proceeded with the development of their theories, while round them France 
moved forward on the course mapped out by her history. 

I spoke of Vandal’s respect for fact and for power. In the case of Sorel, this 
respect has been erected into a system. As for reason, with all his acute intelli- 
gence he forces it to abdicate as far as the State is concerned, or merely permits 
it to lose itself in the mystic creed of historical fatalism. This is what he says about 
Taine when, on joining the Academy, he has to pay tribute to his memory: 

Until then [until the writing of that sensational portrait of Napoleon] whenever 
he measured himself with a thinker, a poet, an artist, Taine, himself a thinker and a 
poet, was able, when faced with the irreducible element, when passmg from the 
formula to life, to supplement the impotence of analysis by the divination of his 
own genius. But here this divination failed him. He had said it himself in connexion 
with Guizot’s work on Oliver Cromwell: ‘In order to write political history one 
has to have experience of affairs of state. The literary man, the psychologist, the 
artist, are out of their depths/ The State was to Taine the last of the scholastic 
monsters which he had resolved to annihilate; he was absolutely allergic to the 
raison d'£tat. That is why, as in former days the Comite de salut public [Sorel, great 
admirer of Danton, also objected strongly to certain aspects of La Revolution ], 
Napoleon remained a mystery to him. 1 

Nevertheless, it might be imagined that in spite of his admiration for Napoleon 
the statesman, Sorel recoiled before the appearance of Napoleon not as lawgiver 
and administrator but as soldier and conqueror, as Thiers had done after 1805; 
one might expect him to follow the example of Talleyrand, like Bourgeois 
and so many other writers, in making a distinction between the traditional 
French policy of moderation and the personal policy of the Consul-Emperor, 
which by its excesses disregarded the true interests of France. But this is not the 
case. Long before he came to deal with the Napoleonic period, Sorel had made 
it clear in what light he regarded Napoleon, that is as the inevitable product 
of circumstances determined by the Revolutionary government which preceded 

1. Nouveaux essais d’histoire et de critique , 1898, p. 138 ff. 



He had, for example, argued at the end of the fourth volume of his great 
work that all thoughts of a peace between Europe and a France extended to her 
‘natural frontiers’ were no more than a chimera. Britain could never accept the 
possession of Belgium by France. Had France renounced the Rhineland, she 
niight have prevented Britain from finding allies on the continent, but her dual 
conquest inevitably aroused the European coalition against her. This had hap- 
pened before Bonaparte came to power. The natural frontiers were an article 
of faith for the new regime in France; the oath on the constitution included 
them. Bonaparte, in accepting the government, had also had to accept the task 
of defending them. This involved the whole drama of his career up to the catas- 
trophe of 1814-15. 

The only peace consistent with the Roman conception of Gaul [it will be remem- 
bered that in Roman times Gaul extended as far as ‘the natural frontiers’] lay in an 
Empire in the Roman fashion, that is to say, England subjugated and France 
supreme in Europe. 1 

Lefebvre assigned a certain freedom of choice to Bonaparte in his early years, 
but considered that the decision of Luneville bound him irrevocably to his 
destiny. Sorel leaves him no freedom at all. The fateful decision, itself deter- 
mined by the previous history of France, had been taken when the Convention 
annexed Belgium and the Rhineland. In it were present, as the fruit in the seed, 
the wars, the further conquests, the Empire, despotism, and finally the catas- 
trophe. Like Vandal and Arthur-Levy, Sorel accepts Napoleon’s own view that 
he had never sought anything but peace - peace, and the natural frontiers, of 
course - and that was an illusion. 


In the fifth volume, in which Bonaparte as army commander in Italy and 
Egypt already plays an important part, he does not yet seem to be entirely sub- 
jected to this idea. It is with a real pleasure that Sorel pictures him at work in his 
Italian pro-consulate, as he tellingly calls it, but he stresses the point that the 
ambitious general is carrying out his own policy and dragging the Directoire 
willy-nilly after him . The conquest and reorganization of Italy are at first ex- 
clusively Bonaparte’s own affair, and tend to divert attention from the Rhine. 

But soon the Directors were vying with their teacher in their eagerness for 
conquest and especially for the plunder of Italy. Sorel is as contemptuous of their 
interventions in foreign affairs as Vandal of their internal administration. They 
were inefficient and clumsy, but whenever the army’s victories gave them the 
chance they became supercilious, exacting, and greedy. So can Sorel’s judgement 

1. V Europe et la Revolution frangatse, iv, 469. 



of them throughout his fifth volume be summarized.. In comparison, like Hoche 
on the Rhine, Bonaparte appears as the liberator, the protector, the master- 

It is the fatality of that age that through the folly and the corruption of civil power, 
the military power appears everywhere as the restoring factor, as the only one able 
to accomplish the task of order without which the nations cannot hve, and the 
work of justice which the nations expect fiom the Revolution . 1 

How little does tins tally with the story, as told by Sorel himself, of the sub- 
jugation of Venice, so specifically Bonaparte’s personal achievement. But he 
tells it without a word of repugnance or reprehension. The trick played on the 
Venetian democrats, first encouraged to undermine their government and then, 
when they had served their turn, sold along with it, is scandalous indeed. But 
Sorel has previously referred to the precedent of the partition of Poland by 
Austria, Prussia, and Russia, and with subtle irony but apparently to the satis- 
faction of his conscience has placed the matter outside moral categories. When 
the Austrians, in their first peace talks with the general, inquired how he intended 
to carry out his offer of Venetian territory (the Republic of Venice being at that 
moment still neutral) 

he needed only to quote the precedents of the Polish partition to release himself 
from the obligation of explaining how a state can be brought to agree to its own 
dismemberment. But he was anxious to show himself at home in the best circles, 
and acquainted with the ways of courts, and versed in all the tricks of the trade. 
France, he said, has a quarrel with the Venetian Republic, and her grievances will 
provide the excuse for a declaration of war, which will put us right with inter- 
national law. a 

Tins matter does not prevent Sorel from surrendering whole-heartedly to the 
charm of Bonaparte’s appearance at Mombello. The young hero, with his 
Josephine, radiant with success and genius, and the young men about him , a 
veritable court, thoroughly enjoyed their good fortune. As yet they were 
hardly ambitious, thinking only of their duties and their pleasures (as one of 
them recollected later), while Bonaparte himself was flattered by Italian poets 
and intellectuals (one brought him his Italian translation of Ossian), who cele- 
brated in him their liberator from the Austrian yoke, from clerical tyranny, the 
bringer of life, the bringer of peace. 

What is more natural [exclaims Sorel] in those days of universal illusion, than for all 
lovers of liberty to acclaim this young man, who seemed to be restoring the peoples 
and reammating men’s souls? Had not Europe allowed herself to be fascinated by 
rulers like Frederick of Prussia and Catherine of Russia, who were after all no more 
than builders of empires and destroyers of nations? For those who lived through 

i. v, 168. 2. v, 156. 

23 6 


them, these were unforgettable days, of that intensity which makes one wish the 
course of life could be suspended; but life does not stand still, and Bonaparte, far 
from holding back events, was the very man to hasten them on. 1 2 

History so romanticized reminds one of Vandal, although this most unusual 
mixture of romanticism and refined intellectual scepticism is peculiar to Sorel. 
As in Vandal, so here, the radiance of the hero stands out against the dark back- 
ground of impotence and trickery which is the ‘lawyer’s government * of the 
Directorate as described by Sorel. I shall shortly give an account of some of the 
arguments advanced against this presentation by other French historians. First, 
however, I will summarize the pages in which Sorel, after his sketch of the pro- 
consul enjoying his triumph and letting himself be worshipped, goes on to 
consider the political figure, already pregnant with so marvellous a future, in 
all its peculiarities and in relation to the circumstances of France and of Europe 
at that time. They are splendid pages, and remarkable if only for the skill with 
which he as it were transfers to a higher plane factors which till then had been 
regarded as the proper working tools of the writers hostile to Napoleon - the 
ambition, the foreignness, even the unscrupulousness. The whole of Sorel’s 
philosophy of history is here seen in action, the unreserved acceptance of fact, 
argued with such wit as to acquire a grace of its own. So irresistible does the 
stream of history appear, with the irresistibility of a divine power - nay, the 
divine power, the only one - that submission is seen to be virtue, the only virtue. 

‘Not the general of a republic now, but a conqueror in his own right,* was 
the description given in May 1797 by a diplomat. Sorel agrees with that judge- 
ment. Bonaparte learned statesmanship in all its aspects. Is it surprising, when 
he compares his rule with that pitiable misgovemment in France, that he prefers 
to put his triumphs at the service of something other than the greater glory of 
the lawyers of the Directorate? 3 

Everywhere he discerns interests and passions, and men who can be led by these 
passions and these interests, by desire, by ambition, by fear; be they the oligarchs of 
Genoa or those of Venice, the princeling of Sardinia [Savoy-Piedmont] , the German 
Emperor, or the Pope himself. How much more so the Directorate ! 

The Directors crawl before him, he is in fact already the master. Nor did he need 
a very profound knowledge of history to remember the Pope’s reply, more than 
a thousand years ago, to the envoys of Pepin the Short: ‘It is better that he who 
wields the power should be given the royal title.’ It was not the title that worried 
him, however. Director, Consul (like Caesar), Protector (like Cromwell) - he 
cared not for the word, but for the matter. 

1. v, 178. 

2. Remark of Bonaparte himself, noted by Miot de Melito: in Sorel, v, 178. 



From the early days of the French Revolution political prophets had been fore- 
telling that this revolution would find its embodiment in a man, who, through it, 
would subdue France and govern her with a power greater than that which had 
been Louis XIV’s. Bonaparte saw it, as it had been divined by Mirabeau and 
Catherine, but with his Roman vision of history he had a clearer conception of it 
than the others. He more particularly feels it, since this history, which is revealed 
to his intellect, lives in him and seems to be living for his sake. He does not analyse 
it, he finds no subtle delectation in it; he goes for it, clearing away one obstacle 
after another ; he sets out for the Empire after the fashion of Columbus, who reached 
the new world while imagining that he was encircling the old. The others are 
fearing, expecting, or blindly seeking the predicted and inevitable ‘Man*. He 
knows him, for he will be that man. He reveals to himself his ambition, as his 
destiny finds its explanation in history. 1 

In a certain sense he takes the place in Europe of Catherine and of Frederick. 
These had dominated public opinion with the help of the French mind, lured 
from its allegiance to the imbecile rulers of France. 

The Revolution had impetuously won back that ‘ magistrature * for France. It is to 
be personified in Bonaparte. If Frederick was the Philosopher King, he will be the 
Revolutionary Emperor. He will say so and believe what he is saying, and for long 
the French and the peoples of Europe will say and believe it with him. And in fact 
he owes all his strength to the Revolution. He absorbs the Revolution, he appro- 
priates it, he shares its elemental passions ; in his own person he welds together that 
spirit of national expansion and that spirit of royal magnificence which are so 
strangely mixed in the popular imagination. He will continue, with the large 
majority of Frenchmen, to proclaim: whatever is conquered for France is won for 
liberty. And he will think : I am France. 

But nevertheless France remains for him a conquered country. He is no product 
of the soil ; he comes from without. He is the son of foreigners. The French language 
is not his mother tongue, it is for him the acquired language of civilization, the 
European language. France is not the unexcelled, the sacred plot where his ancestors 
are buried; it can be extended to wherever his charger will carry him and his 
Roman eagles will perch . . . Therein lies his strength. Sufficiently imbued with the 
French spirit to understand the popular way of thinking, and be understood by the 
people; sufficiently peculiar, in his own genius, to remain separate from the rest 
while yet being one with them as part of the army and the people, this Corsican 
seized France, and identifies the French Revolution with himself. . 

He admixes Frederick and lias made a study of him, but he does not allow him- 
self to be dazzled, far less taken in. And indeed what a contrast does the patient, 
stoical, measured Frederick present, struggling with his narrow and poverty- 
stricken circumstances, counting on nobody but hims elf. 

i. v, 179 ff. 2. v, 180 f £ 



As for Bonaparte, he was from the first moment carried along with the current, the 
most vehement which history ever saw let loose, the richest in human force; it 
was the French Revolution, spreading through a generous and exalted nation the 
passions, the ambitions, the dreams of greatness, accumulated within the State by a 
monarchy of eight centuries, than which no monarchy has lasted longer. Those 
growing pains of France, these enthusiastic armies, that is what has made Bonaparte, 
through that he is everything, without it, in spite of his genius, he would be 
nothing but a prodigious and powerless individual. 1 

Bonaparte himself was conscious of being carried on by that current, and 
tended more and more to profess the historical fatalism winch, even though 
Sorel describes it with a touch of irony, is fundamentally Iris own. 

Events open up so broad a highway for him, he always manages to be so ready to 
put them to his advantage, he finds the history of Europe and the prodigious 
adventure of his life linked up so curiously and so constantly, that he comes to look 
upon his destiny as a kind of law of nature, of which he is the executor. 4 ‘I declare 
[says Napoleon at the zenith of his power] that I am the greatest slave among men, 
my master has no entrails, and that master is the nature of things.’ 

Returning to the Bonaparte of 1797, Sorel shows him surveying all Europe 
and sometimes letting his gaze rest far beyond. The thoughts that stir within 
him, though he keeps them to himself, are always thoughts that live in the French 
peoples and emerge from their history. 

France he sees peopled by men, Italy by children, Holland by pot-bellied merchants, 
Germany by herds enclosed within fences which their masters shift at will. 3 

The obstacle is Britain, or rather the British oligarchy; for, says Sorel, he makes 
the same mistakes as the Convention and separates the people of Britain from 
their government. Britain must be overthrown, for otherwise the new order 
in France cannot survive, and then . . . Europe is ours, and then for the Mediter- 
ranean Sea, Egypt . . . 

The dream [comments Sorel, once more connecting these ambitions with the 
tradition], the dream which has fired French imaginations smee the crusades. . . . 

It is in this volume that Sorel lays, as it were, the foundation for his treatment 
of Napoleon as ruler of France, while from time to time casting a glance towards 
those later years. I shall give one more quotation from it. It is well known that 
Hoche, who was commander-in-chief of the army of the Rhine in 1797, was 

1. v, 183. a. v, 185. 3. v, 188. 



the only general whose personality and prestige stamped him as a possible com- 
petitor for Bonaparte should a military government become unavoidable. He 
died in September 1 797, just after the coup d’etat of Fructidor (winch was originally 
to have taken place under his direction), at the age of tlnrty-four. He has gone 
down to history as a true republican, a sincere lover of liberty. Sorel, with a 
respect through which pierces a scarcely veiled scepticism, refers to le noble 
ctilte devoted to Hoche’s memory by republican France. 

Hocke benefited from the immense deception to which the Empire was to give 
rise . . . France embellishes him with all her retrospective illusions and imagines 
that, if he had lived, she might with his help have broken her cruel destiny . . . The 
least Italian, the least Anglo-Saxon of men, neither puritan nor Machiavellian, as 
little familiar with the Bible as with the Digests, but a reader of Sully, whose 
chimeras of a Europe pacified by the Franks appealed to his imagination, w hil e 
Bonaparte on the other hand nourished his mind with the maxims and the State 
realism of Frederick. The most completely and most fundamentally French of all 
the heroes of the Revolution . . . Would he have been strong enough to control 
himself and the victorious nation, to curb the lust for conquest, and, once the 
conquest was achieved, to win, by his use of it, the forgiveness of Europe for 
France’s supremacy? Would he have been able to mollify that Europe which 
refused to ratify French conquests, being loath to undergo French supremacy? . . . 
Could he have compelled England to accept and to respect the Roman peace of the 
Republic? England alone, tough, inaccessible on her island and irreconcilable in her 
age-long rivalry, is enough to discourage all hypothetical conclusions . . . But the 
French will go on pursuing, with the shade of Hoche, the chimera pursued in vain 
by their fathers, renewmg, against the evidence of the facts, and against the written 
documents of the past, the struggle sustained by their fathers agamst the nature of 
European reality, the hereditary tendencies of the French nation, and the necessities 
of the Revolution; so beautiful was this desire to reconcile, without in any way 
saenfiemg one to the other, these three ideals, which a century ago mutually 
destroyed one another’s liberty, the Republic, and the Rhine frontier. 1 

I said that Sorel’s scepticism was scarcely veiled, but I might have put it more 
strongly still. For though at first he appears to be considering Hoche’s possibil- 
ities with an open mind, his respect for what has happened, for the unshakeable 
historical fact, increases as he writes, and thus brings him to an eloquent expres- 
sion of that fatalistic view of history which is to dominate the following volumes 
of his work. 


Hie fifth volume of / Em ope et la Revolution frangaise, which appeared after so 
long an interruption of the great work, made a great impression in France and 
1. v, 224 ff. 



elsewhere. The colourfulness and vivacity of its descriptions, of which my 
quotations give httle idea, set within a scheme which for all its compass hangs 
together remarkably well, were bound to fascinate and impress its readers. 
Houssaye, Masson, and even V andal (to say nothing of Arthur-Levy), who hardly 
gave a more favourable picture of Napoleon than Sorel, laid themselves much 
more open to the charge of partisanship. Sorel appeared to view the fray from 
serene heights, and to deliver his judgements in the name of history alone. But 
the professional historians had many objections. 

In the Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine for the same years, 1903-4, 
there appeared an article by Raymond Guyot and Pierre Muret, ‘Etude critique 
sur Bonaparte et le Directoire par M. Albert Sorel’, which ran to some fifty large 
pages. The writers begin by mentioning the general praise winch the work 
was receiving. They consider it superfluous to add their own tribute of admira- 
tion, but deem it highly necessary to warn readers against the opinion, here 
and there expressed, that Sorel had said the last word on the problems of foreign 
policy under the Directorate. ‘After this attempt at synthesis/ they conclude, 
‘there is still room for numerous and important studies of the subject.’ Indeed 
one of them, Guyot, was to present a thesis of about nine hundred pages to the 
Faculty of Letters in the University of Paris, entitled Le Directoire et la paix de 
V Europe. 1 

They begin with a minutely detailed analysis of Sorel’s documentation. No 
history of foreign politics, they assert, is satisfactory which does not take into 
account records of other governments. Now here Sorel fell seriously short. 
Where published sources were not available, he had undertaken no archive 
research, yet such research was essential, particularly in Berlin, London, Spain, 
and Italy. But even the French archives were used in a perfunctory manner. 
The result is an excessive number of gaps and misapprehensions, which the 
reader, charmed by the flawless presentation and beguiled by the writer’s assured 
tone, fails to notice, although they undermine the foundations of the book. 
The livehest episodes, the most striking judgements, and the broadest con- 
clusions, turn out to be built on a quite insufficient factual basis. This is all the 
more dangerous because Sorel is so much inclined to see history in the guise 
of a system, or to force it into a system. Conversely, the critics find in this passion 
for system an explanation of the insufficiency of factual material. 

Did not M. Sorel [they inquire] to a certain extent, and of course unconsciously, 

1. It is known that in France more is expected from a thhe than from the doctoral 
dissertation in Holland (or in Great Britain). It is written by older students, its scope is 
greater, and it takes a considerable place among the productions of scholarship. 



distort his facts, if only by the way in which he narrated them, and did he not 
frequently allow Ins attention to be diverted from the critical study of facts to that 
imposing edifice of ideas which he was proposing to build? 

They argue that on two important points, both of which influenced his view 
of Napoleon, the facts not only fail to justify Sorel’s 4 system’ but actually con- 
tradict it. The first point concerns the peace negotiations with Britain in 1796 
and again in 1797. It is true that General Bonaparte in Italy had little direct 
hand in this, but Sorel’s whole theory concerning his career and his place in 
French history rests, as we have seen, on the hypothesis that there could be no 
end to the war with Britain, as long as France did not renounce the natural 
frontiers conquered since 1793, and especially the southern Netherlands. 

And indeed of both these negotiations Sorel maintains that they were not 
seriously meant. Pitt entered into them merely to demonstrate to an uneasy 
public that France would not be prepared to give up the southern Netherlands. 
That he would never have considered making peace while the French were still 
in Antwerp is a proposition which Sorel thinks it hardly necessary to argue. 
British historians have tried to show that Pitt’s attempts to conclude peace were 
sincere. Bourgeois was convinced of this. As a matter of fact Austria’s defection 
from the coalition and her readiness to accept Venice in exchange for the southern 
Netherlands had been most discouraging to Britain. Just because it was of such 
importance for Sorel’s whole argument to show not only that these negotiations 
had failed but that they could not have succeeded, it might have been expected 
that he would have gone thoroughly into the matter. But here too his documen- 
tation is totally inadequate, and he makes statements concerning instructions 
and intentions which, when the documents are examined, are seen to be wide 
of the mark. 

The second point concerns the contrast consistently shown between the 
Directorate and the commander-in-chief in Italy, and which in Sorel’s book 
no less than in Vandal’s turns out so much to the advantage of the latter. Sorel’s 
picture of Bonaparte as the hberator, the state-builder, in Italy, is matched by a 
presentation of the Directorate as concerned with nothing but robbery, intent 
upon squeezing the inhabitants dry, and indifferent as to the regime to be set 
up after the Austrians had been driven out. It was Bonaparte and the mili tary 
in general who had to protect the Italians against the greed of the self-seeking 
commissioners appointed by the Directorate. It was Bonaparte who saw the 
importance of spreading revolutionary principles. 

The critics show in detail the inaccuracy of all this. I can only select a few out 
of their many observations based upon very precise data. To begin with, Sorel 
exaggerates not a little the independence of Bonaparte’s conduct and the fear 
he inspired among the Directors. In one case he is shown to have kept to their 



instructions, though Sorel stated that he exceeded them. In another, where he 
did exceed his instructions, the Directors did not hesitate to rebuke him. But in 
particular it is shown to be untrue that the Directorate had forgotten revolu- 
tionary principles. If they delayed in setting up republican regimes, it was as a 
result of reports received from their agents concerning the disinclination and 
immaturity of the inhabitants. As soon as a change in this attitude develops, the 
government in Paris proceeds with the republicamzing, without having to be 
spurred on by Bonaparte. Sorel praises Bonaparte for having considered the 
possibility of a religious pacification through the medium of the Pope - a fore- 
shadowing of the Concordat policy - while in Paris men still clung to the blind 
intolerance of Convention days. The documents, however, show that the 
Directorate itself had already laid down the main lines of the policy. 

As regards the sucking dry of the inhabitants and the personal corruption of 
civil agents in particular, Sorel’s assertions and distribution of blame are indeed 
reckless. He neglects to distinguish between different kinds of commissioners. 
For example he assumes that one well-known personality had misappropriated 
funds (as according to him they all did), when in fact this man was a political 
commissioner, direct representative of the Directorate, and, having nothing 
whatever to do with finances, provisioning the army or taxation, he did not have 
any funds at his disposal. But, and this is important for the right understanding 
of the relationships, according to the two critics there is no ground for this belief 
in the nobility of the military and the depravity of the civil agents and authorities. 
Ihave already quoted(p. 236) a passage from Sorel which shows what far-reaching 
conclusions he based on this belief. Sorel writes as if the Directorate either ordered 
or at least approved all violence or extortion at the expense of the Italian popu- 
lation, while generals and the few honest agents, who wished to spare the people, 
protect religion, and curb looting, were suspected in Paris of moderantisme , of 
weakness, if not of intelligence with the enemy. 

He gives as example the case of General Championnet. ‘This rough soldier 
loved order - he was, as an Italian testified, a righteous man.’ The commissioners 
came to Naples, where Championnet was in command, and their doings drove 
the inhabitants to despair. Sternly Championnet dismissed the troublemakers 
and sent them away. Whereupon the Directorate had him up before a court 
martial; and that was the end of order and justice in Naples. The whole anecdote 
seems to have been taken from memoirs, always a source to be used with caution. 
In this case the writer from whom most of the story is taken was an officer, a 
furious supporter of Championnet and critic of the commissioners. . . . 

Guyot and Muret expound a general theory which is the opposite of Sorel’s. 
Those who abused their power and were most greedy for money were the 
military, acting in connivance with corrupt agents. The Directorate’s civil 



agents had their work cut out tracking down and suppressing these activities, 
and they did so at the instruction of the Directorate and with its support. The 
critics give one example, that of ‘the notorious Halier’, a banker and a jobber 
of military contributions. Repeatedly accused of corrupt practices, he was pro- 
tected first by Bonaparte and afterwards by General Brune, till he was finally 
expelled from Italy in 1799 at the insistence of a political agent. 1 

Guyot and Muret do not refer to Vandal, but the reader will perhaps have 
noticed that their corrections of Sorel also affect the picture presented mUav em- 
inent de Bonaparte. 

But let me confine myself to Sorel. The criticism of his work cuts deep, and 
appears to me to be irrefutable. As regards actual diplomatic history the fifth 
volume is unsatisfactory, and we shall have to take account of similar criticism 
of later volumes. (It should be noticed in passing that for volumes two to four, 
dealing with the Revolution itself, the documentation is much more solid.) 
The thesis so dear to the writer, so often repeated and examined from different 
angles, has certainly not been proven. His work does indeed provide us with a 
striking example of the historian who approaches history with his opinions 
ready made, and who seeks only those facts necessary to support them. 

There is no need for me to remark that such a method is open to serious objec- 
tions. It is certainly not an ideal way of writing history, to construct theories 
without the most careful examination of the facts and without testing them all 
the time against what can be established as objective historical reality. But it 
should not for that reason be assumed that Sorel’s work, or its last four volumes, 
is worthless. Not even Guyot and Muret suggest that. They merely conclude 

the work seems to us lacking, not in value, to be sure, but in solidity. M. Sorel’s 
work, whatever has been said about it, is not ‘definitive’. His judgement is not a 

This is absolutely true. Scarcely more than that can be expected from critics 
who, while the air around them resounds with praise, have been spending weeks 
or months studying the shortcomings, superficialities, mistakes, and omissions 
of the work in question. I could only have wished that these two excellent histor- 
ians could have suppressed a certain spitefulness to be detected in their remarks 
concerning ‘the agreeable style of M. SoreT, as if it were the sole cause of his 

1. I merely note that a later and very extensive work, J. Godechot, Les Commissures 
aux armees sous le Directoire, 1941, reaches conclusions which entirely justify the theory of 
Guyot and Muret. Cf. also in Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, 1941, Bartstra’s thorough and 
instructive article; ‘Nieuwe inzichten in de geschiedenis van het Directoire-U] dvak.’ 



Sorel, indeed, remains great for all his shortcomings, and in this fifth volume, 
too, not only as stylist but as historian. In historical writing, imagination and 
constructive powers must be kept severely subdued to critical judgement, but 
they are nevertheless qualities belonging to the great historian. Sorel possessed 
them to a high degree. We must not accept his views passively, but his statement 
of the problem never lacks importance. Even where he only stimulates disagree- 
ment, the reader’s understanding is deepened. Nor do we get the untenable 
thesis all the time; facts do not always have to be twisted to suit it, and the un- 
tenable itself has its relative truth. Here are striking observations, amazingly 
apposite parallels, glimpses of unexpected connexions, in short, the reader is 
introduced to a rich and lively mind, and he will have to beware lest he be swept 
away. Yet some advantage will be gained from considering a little more closely 
the volumes that follow. 


It is only in Volume VI that the thesis constructed by Sorel as he was dealing 
with the history of the first revolutionary wars, and outlined above, comes to 
rule supreme. He certainly had not lost sight of it in Volume V, but it appeared 
as if the figure of Bonaparte might to a certain extent escape from it. The pro- 
consul who imposed his policy on the Directorate, and had a quite individual 
and special interest in Italy, could easily have been presented as an unexpected 
element in the situation. But Sorel never did so explicitly. Now, and until the 
very end, the First Consul and Emperor is subjected to what Sorel seems to 
regard as an iron law of nature, the thesis that an enduring peace, especially with 
Britain, but also with Austria, and even with Prussia and Russia, was impossible 
while France continued in possession of her natural frontiers, that is of the 
Rhineland, Savoy, and above all the southern Netherlands, conquered in the 
first flush of revolutionary enthusiasm and declared inalienable parts of the one 
and indivisible state by a decree of 1 79 5 which possessed constitutional authority. 1 

From this point of view the violation of the peace of Amiens was not, as I 
previously called it (p. 59), the turning-point in Napoleon’s career as ruler of 
France. The fatal change had taken place before Bonaparte entered the political 
arena. Amiens could be no more than a truce, and it was not the First Consul 
but (as he called it) ‘the nature of tilings’ (see p. 239) which drew France into the 
new conflict, which was to end only with 1814-15 and the fall of France. 

Quite different interpretations and explanations, however, had been given 
to account for the course of events. Bourgeois’s view (p. 221 £f.) will be recalled. 
There was also an article by Martin Philippson which had appeared shortly before 

1. V Europe et la Revolution jrangaise, rv, 431. 



in the Revue historique * and in which, after a careful analysis of the data, the hlame 
for the violation of the peace was ascribed to Bonaparte. A view existed that 
Britain in 1802, exhausted and discouraged by the second collapse of the con- 
tinental coalition and the defection of Austria and Russia, was undoubtedly 
ready to allow France to retain the Rhineland and even Belgium. To justify lus 
thesis, therefore, it was incumbent on Sorel to devote particular attention to 
the treaty of Amiens and its failure; nor did he omit to do so. His discussion of 
this problem forms an important part of his sixth volume. 

The preliminaries for an Anglo-French peace were completed in London at 
the beginning of October 1801. It was not till 25 March of the following year 
that the final treaty was signed at Amiens. 

Sorel is not so naive as to attempt, like Thiers (see p. 59), to present Bonaparte 
as seriously inclined for peace. The peace, he says, was a move in his game. The 
French public, which he was at the same tune wooing with the Concordat, 
expected it of him. He never regarded the settlement as anything other than a 
truce, but it was to strengthen his internal position and win time for him to 
consolidate his newly won mastery of Germany and Italy. He would be able 
to renew the fight with all the more vigour later. 

The London Government (Pitt had resigned a few months before, and Adding- 
ton’s ministry was in office) was ‘inclined, for similar reasons, and with the same 
undeclared motives’ to accept a breathing space. 3 Britain had been left to face 
France alone. In this isolation invasion was an unpleasant possibility, and it was 
moreover feared that Bonaparte would close the whole continent to British 
trade. In case of a settlement, connexions could once more be resumed with the 
former allies. Both Austria and Russia seemed to offer possibilities. Moreover 
the British confidently expected to make a clever trade treaty and restore British 
finances at the cost of France herself. It is true that most of Pitt’s former colleagues 
raised objections, but Pitt supported the idea, expecting that disappointments 
arising from the peace would make a renewal of the war acceptable to public 
opinion, and that meanwhile the ‘truce’ would give an opportunity for the 
necessary internal reforms. 

This is, to begin with, an astonishing passage. Sorel, as he often does, begins 
by giving a long list of sources and contemporary literature of which he has 
made use. He fails, however, to account for his assertions individually, a bad 

1. ‘La parse d’Amiens et la politique de Napoldon Ier\ Revue Historique , vols, ixxv 
and lxxvt. Martin Philippson, professor in Brussels, who has done much useful work 
mostly on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century history, writing in both French and m 
German, was not a Frenchman. For which reason I do not intend to cite his conclusions 
further. (They were most decisively in support of the view that Napoleon provoked 
the war.) 

2. vi, 157. 



habit already condemned by the contemporary usage of scholars. It is thus not 
made clear how he was able to probe the souls of the Addington ministry and of 
Pitt so confidently. Certainly the older French writers - Bignon, Armand 
Lefebvre, and Thiers - all give a similar interpretation. Data from the British 
side, however, all show not only that the public at large was relieved that the 
endless war was over, but that the government had given up the continent as 
lost and placed their hope for the future m the strengthening of their extra- 
European position, that in other words they were willing to give the peace a 
trial, provided Bonaparte did not make it too difficult for them. As for Pitt, 
he defended the peace in the House of Commons as an honourable settlement, 
not lacking in advantage, and expressed himself in similar terms in such of his 
letters as have come down to us. A few of his former colleagues disagreed, but 
Sorel’s statement that this was true of most of them is incorrect. 

I shall not analyse Sorel’s account of the difficult negotiations which dragged 
on for six months before the peace treaty was signed. The scorn with which he 
speaks of Joseph , 1 who with Talleyrand was the official negotiator at Amiens, 
who gathered all the liberal and faint-hearted elements of the political world 
round him by blaming the warlike proclivities of his brother, and who was so 
blind as to believe Britain to be sincere in her desire of peace - and himself to 
be able to administer France better than Napoleon - the animosity with which 
he constantly accuses the British government and its negotiators of tricks, 
evasions, and obstructions; all this is intended to create an atmosphere in which 
the reader will accept his conclusion that the British were never serious about 
the peace. But our suspicions have been aroused by the passage quoted pre- 
viously, and we now notice quite distinctly that not a single action of the British 
government is mentioned, not an utterance by any of its statesmen quoted, which 
would justify the accusation of bad faith. 

It is certainly true that even before the peace was signed opinion in Britain 
had grown much less optimistic. Sorel would have us think that France’s 
amazing recovery under Bonaparte had aroused envy and anxiety among the 
British. He describes the surprise of those who visited France after the cessation 
of hostilities and who found a country very different from what they had ex- 
pected . 3 

Instead of wanton excess in the midst of devastation andTmpoverishment, 
they found cultivated lands; plentiful, abundant, and well cared-for cattle; neat 
cottages; factories under construction; everywhere order, people working, 
contentment, returning prosperity, a nation growing like a healthy body with 
powerful organs cheerfully functioning . . . And instead of a successful military 

x. It is worth while noting that he here quotes Masson. 

2. vi, 241 ff. 



adventurer, they saw a statesman, and one of the most impressive bearing. Those 
who were most favourably inclined expected something like a cross between 
Cromwell and Washington; the most cultivated and the most ingenious [every- 
body will notice the indirect thrust at Taine] had amused themselves by giving 
the petty squire from Corsica the features of an Italian condottiere of the fourteenth 
century, changed, by the strangest conjuring trick, into the dictator of a revolu- 
tion born of Jean-Jacques, Diderot, and Voltaire. What they in fact discovered 
- an mfimtely more natural spectacle for France - was the genie d’Etat of the 
eternal rival revived in a single man, who was, for the greater glory of the grande 
nation , reconstituting the State of Louis XIV. 

It is worth our while once more to note how completely Sorel accepts Bona- 
parte as the personification of the French State idea. His views concerning 
Mine de Stael and Taine had prepared us for this. But let us stick to the problem 
of the renewed war with Britain. It is not impossible that the spectacle described 
by Sorel may have caused some Britons to regret a peace which suited France 
so well. Nevertheless, it is more natural to attribute the rising scepticism about 
a policy of reconciliation in the main to the blunt manner in which, even before 
the final treaty, Bonaparte revealed the ambitions at the back of his mind. Al- 
though the treaty with Austria had guaranteed the independence of both the 
Batavian and the Cisalpine Republics, the First Consul strengthened his hold 
on both in the first months of 1802. Moreover, he immediately sent a strong 
expedition to conquer San Domingo, which was to all intents and purposes 
independent under its Negro ruler Toussaint L’Ouverture. He purchased 
Louisiana from Spain. Worst of all, perhaps, he turned a deaf ear to the British 
suggestions for a trade treaty, and even closed his Italian vassal states to British 
goods. Sorel, as much under the sway of protectionist views as was the First 
Consul himself, may write as though a trade treaty could only result in the en- 
richment of Britain at the expense of France; it is clear, however, that these 
measures in their totality must crush British expectations of any real slackening 
of the tension. And yet even so they allowed themselves to be pressed into signing 
a peace treaty without any of the concessions which they had tried to obtain. 

Before going on to deal with the subsequent events which led to the expiration 
of the peace little more than a year later, Sorel pronounced its funeral oration. 
It is a passage of remarkable eloquence, and a happy sample of his skill in decking 
out liis thesis with all the power and splendour of his philosophical ingenuity 
and his broad historical outlook. 

Glorious though the peace might be for the Consular Republic, it was no 
more than a show piece, an illusion. 

Later on Napoleon said: ‘At Amiens I imagined in all good faith that I had settled 
France’s destiny and my own ... I was planning to devote myself exclusively to the 



administration of France, and I believe that I could have worked wonders. I might 
have achieved the moral conquest of Europe, just as I have been on the verge of 
accomplishing it by arms. 9 

If one compares this with what Thiers has to say about Amiens, (see p. 59) it 
will be seen that here too he did no more than follow Napoleon himself. Sorcl 
is more subtle. 

It was on St Helena that he spoke in this way [he continues] where he fought his 
lost battles over again, Leip2ig and Waterloo, winning them, and fashioning his life 
according to his exile’s dreams. 

I remark in passing that the sincerity of Napoleon’s statement is here accepted. 
It is also possible to see in it the conscious creation of a legend, for the sake of Ins 
good name with posterity and for the future of his son. Sorel continues: 

Thus the people, eternal dreamer and poet of its own legend, pictures the history of 
its past in the likeness of what it would have wished it to be, and moulds its own 
destiny to its desires. It divests itself of its passions, which it no longer understands, 
and sets up cardboard scenery along the way, as was done for Catherine the Great 
when she went to see the lands conquered for her by Potemkin. No doubt the hour 
was a lovely and a brilliant one ; but while that might be a motive for wishing it to 
last, it was hardly to be expected that Nature should interrupt her march and the 
miracle of Joshua be repeated. Bonaparte attempted - impelled by his interest - to 
maintain the continent in the state of submission to which he had reduced it, and 
to make use of the freedom of action he had obtained for himself to seek in India 
and in America for advantages from the peace. He made the attempt ; but it was that 
very effort to stand on the peace of Amiens in Europe, and to develop it in France 
by trade and industry and by colonial expansion, which caused England to decide 
on the rupture. [I shall in a moment recall the occasion of the resumption of 
hostilities. It will then be seen whether this can with reason be described as ‘ standing 
on the peace of Amiens in Europe and developing it in France’] . . . The treaty of 
Amiens, like so many others, proved a precarious acluevement, an edifice of clay 
built on shifting sands. To judge it, one must put it in its perspective, between its 
causes and its consequences, which latter were but the continuation of its causes . . . 
It is enough to have followed the negotiations [I have, however, indicated how 
difficult it is to do so in Sorel’s account] to discern how this peace came to be 
shattered. All the avenues by which it had approached its conclusion were pro- 
longed into so many ways of escape, down which it disappeared. 

To make the peace of Amiens a lasting one, Europe should have attributed to it a 
character possessed by none of the preceding treaties, neither by that of Nymegen 
nor by those of Ryswyk, Utrecht, Aix-la-Chapelle, Paris, or even by the latest, 
Campo Formio and Luneville. Europe, three times leagued against Louis XIV 
because that king had cast ambitious eyes on part only of the conquests of 1802, 
once more leagued m 1792 to throw back a France judged too powerful and in the 



words of an Austrian statesman to break the spring of that formidable State 
machine, should have accepted as a fixed arrangement what as a plan and as an 
attempt she had detested like the very monster Leviathan and had fought consis- 

There should have been a France who checked herself in the full rush of her 
revolutionary ardours, appeasing the passions which had for the last ten years 
urged her on to spread out over Europe and which had brought her to this trium- 
phant moment; there should have been a France who turned her enthusiasm mto 
common sense, her pride into modesty, her impetuosity into caution; who 
thought of nothing but how to enjoy within her magnificent territory the boons of 
hberty, the products of the labour and the genius of her people, to enrich herself, 
to create masterpieces; she would even have had to give up her interest in colonial 
conquests, and surrender Egypt, India, the Antilles, the Mediterranean, in order 
not to give umbrage to the English; she would, by a commercial treaty, have had 
to open her market to their industry at the risk of ruining her own, in order to 
console them for the loss of Antwerp and Cologne, abandoning her arsenals, 
calling back her fleets, retreating before the English on every ocean; she would 
have had to retreat before Austria in Italy and restore Lombardy to her, before 
Prussia in Germany; she would have had to allow to Russia the supremacy in the 
Holy Empire and tutelage over the Ottoman Empire. And, what is even more 
improbable, there should have been a Europe which, fascinated by so much 
moderation, would refrain from pushing on as France retreated ; a France preserving 
enough prestige and a Europe enough self-control to permit French Repubhcans 
and Kings in coalition against the Revolution to put by their arms, each on their 
bank of the Rhine, and to respect the marks of ‘nature’ as the Convention had 
indicated them. 

There should have been an Austria which did not regret Belgium, nor pretend 
to the supremacy in Italy; a non-covetous Prussia without any thoughts of sup- 
remacy in Germany; a Russia turning away from Europe in order to occupy herself 
with Asia solely; and, most paradoxical of all these metamorphoses, an England 
ceasing to be English, exclusive and ferocious, in order to find happiness in cos- 
mopolitanism, no longer out for the control of the Mediterranean nor for the 
sovereignty of the seas; a creeping paralysis would have had to seize that England 
in the abundance of her strength and activity, with her traditions, her passions, her 
pride, her banks, her mines, her furnaces, her thousands of emigrants, her fleets, her 
merchants, her trading City, her howling ‘mob’, her Parliament demanding wa* 
to the bitter end, her inexhaustible credit, her contraband trade as lucrative as the 
legitimate, her untameable pertinacity, her genius for enterprise and for alliances; 
the England of the Hundred Years War, of William the Third, of Chatham, of 
Pitt . 1 That is to say, there ought to have been another Europe, another France, 
other peoples, other governments ; the history of our Europe would have to have 
swerved from the course it had followed ever since the fourteenth century, and 
the French Revolution must have turned back on its steps. 

i. The elder Pitt, minister during the Seven Years War. 



And finally let us add to this the man Bonaparte, whose person and character 
count for as much at this juncture as those of Pitt in England or of Alexander in 
Russia, and who can no more be left out of account in future events than in those 
which went before: the Italian campaigns, the Egyptian expedition, Marengo and 
the treaty of Luneville. The lovers of speculation, who dispose of his genius so 
bght-heartedly, require a manifestation of that genius more prodigious than all he 
ever vouchsafed to the world: not only that he should transform himself, but that 
he should modify the nature of things, that he should become another man m 
another Europe . . . Later, and from afar [undoubtedly once more from St Helena] 
he said: ‘I may have conceived a good many plans, but I was never free to execute 
one of them. For all that I held the rudder, and with so strong a hand, the waves 
were a good deal stronger. I never was in truth my own master; I was always 
governed by circumstances .* 1 

One may estimate the element of apology in this utterance of Napoleon’s 
as highly as one likes. One may detect in Sorel’s dissertation other weaknesses 
than those I have pointed out. One may in the end reject his conclusion, and 
continue to hold the view that Napoleon did have a choice at this juncture, and 
chose war - not because all the forces of the present and the past within and with- 
out France drove him to it, but because he cherished plans and ambitions, he, 
Napoleon Bonaparte, which could only be realized through war. Yet even then 
one is obliged to take account of a whole class of factors, a whole chain of ideas, 
which correct an over-simplified view of Napoleon’s responsibility. 


Let me not, however, refrain from criticism on that account. Sorel, repeating 
Napoleon, refers to ‘the nature of things’. But I have already shown how much, 
in the case of Britain, the writer adapted the nature of things to suit his own pur- 
pose. The decline in Britain’s enthusiasm for war, the timid acquiescence of the 
new government, even Pitt’s concurrence in the peace policy - all these factors 
he either ignores or disguises. That Parliament of his imagination, clamouring 
for war, actually passed the preliminaries and even the peace treaty with an 
overwhelming majority and amid the applause of that ‘howling mob’. And 
as for France, is it really necessary to imagine another France, in order to see a 
people sick of war and anxious to dedicate itself to peaceful activities? 

It will be remembered that according to Bourgeois, Bonaparte was compelled, 
in order to get his war, to throw sand in the eyes of the French, hiding his real 
objectives in Egypt and the East, while seizing hold of everything that would 
revive the old distrust and rivalry towards Britain; in that way he hoped at the 

i. vi, 202-5. 



same time to rouse tlic British to such a state of irritation that they would declare 
the war and thus provide him with the excuse he needed for the benefit of the 
French public. 

When one reads an account of these events (several have been touched upon 
already) in a large textbook or say in the article of Martin Philippson, the inter- 
pretation that Bonaparte exercised deliberate provocation is bound to arise m 
one’s mind The First Consul continued to expand his power in Italy, for instance 
by the annexation of Piedmont - clearly outside the natural frontiers - while 
in Switzerland he established his influence by military mtervention. No wonder 
that all this caused anxiety in Britain. The worst, however, was the provocative 
tone in which Bonaparte dismissed all British queries about these matters or 
about whatever increase of power on the Continent he permitted himself, 1 
The Treaty of Amiens had stipulated nothmg about all this and therefore 
Britain had not the right to meddle. In the end he even used the unheard of 
threat that the objections of the British Government could only excite his 
appetite for conquests and induce him to establish that empire of the west they 
feared so much (see p. 60). Then there was not only the refusal of a commercial 
treaty, but also a number of economic and even financial measures discriminating 
against the British. Finally there was the publication in the Moniteur of Sebas- 
tiani’s amazing report about Egypt (see p. 60) - the most amazing tiling about 
it was the fact of its publication ! However desirous of avoiding a conflict, the 
British Government now refused to continue conversations about the evacua- 
tion of Malta which it had undertaken at Amiens unless the First Consul was 
prepared to give explanations about Piedmont and Switzerland - ‘trivialities’, 
exclaimed Bonaparte to Lord Whitworth - as well as about Egypt. Gradually, 
and not least as the result of the public scene which he soon made against 
Whitworth (see p. 59), the patience of the weak London Government became 
exhausted, while the protests of the anti-French party grew louder - for un- 
doubtedly there was such a party; the friends of Pitt had never ceased to 
proclaim the view that propitiatory words and soft manners were not the 
treatment for the Corsican. So at last the breach came. 

Of course Sorel, too, mentions all these questions and incidents. Why then, 
one might ask, does not his account lead irresistibly to the conclusion that an 
exhausted and hesitating Britain was roused to fresh efforts by the irrepressible 
turbulence of this dictatorial conqueror? History makes a choice from the 
infinite multiplicity and diversity of hfe. A review such as I have given by no 
means exhausts the possibilities. Sorel finds many other aspects, utterances, and 

1. I refrain from drawing parallels between these events and those of our own time; 
they are obvious. I must, nevertheless, recall how after the Munich Agreement Hitler 
took the line that Britain and France had no say in the affairs of eastern Europe. 



events which he brings to the fore. It appears certain that Bonaparte did not 
think the British would dare throw themselves so quickly into another war. 
In the spring of 1 803 he was himself not entirely ready, and therefore repeatedly 
expressed his desire to preserve the peace. On the other hand it would be foolish 
to imagine that the body of British public opinion, apart from that section of 
it which opposed war on various grounds, was only concerned with the fate 
of those small continental states which had been subjugated by Bonaparte, and 
was in no way influenced by hatred of the French, fear of the Revolution, or 
commercial imperialism. I have already (p. 247) quoted the passage in which 
Sorel describes the impression made on English travellers by the new France, 
and I emphasized that he did not omit to add 1 that they not only admired but 
were full of consternation. France was not only becoming too powerful; she 
was too prosperous and too industrious. 

And England puts herself on her guard, determined to apply in industrial strife the 
same system as in the struggle for colonies: preventive war. 

Seen in the framework of such tendentious observations, interspersed with 
facts and opinions of quite different tenor, the arguments which I brought to- 
gether to support the view of Bonaparte as provoker of the war of 1803 lose 
much of their force. Perhaps it will have to be called a subjective judgement, 
but I am inclined to suggest that Sorel’s presentation, his selection of this rather 
than that factor, was decided in the first place by his French nationalism, which 
made him fiercely anti-British (it must not be forgotten that he was writing 
under the recent impression of Fashoda and of the Boer War), and secondly 
by his enslavement to his thesis, itself born not without the assistance of that 
same French nationalism, to that historical fatalism to which it was his ambition 
to subject not only this particular critical problem but the whole of his great 
work from the first page to the last. 

This judgement, it should be added, was immediately formulated by French 
historians as well. The Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 2 again had a 
very detailed study by Muret. The Frenchman does not speak of French nation- 
alism as motivating sentiment, but places all the more stress upon historical 
determinism. In contradistinction to the article written in collaboration with 
Guyot, he now pays generous tribute to the great qualities of the author, but 
he still has serious criticisms to make on his method and technique. In connexion 
with the problem of the peace and its breach in 1802 and 1803, of which he too 
recognizes the central importance, he is not convinced by Sorel’s interpretation. 
The thesis, he considers, is most forcefully propounded, but in dealing with 

1. vi, 242. 2. vi, 724-42. 



specific problems the author leaves one too often unsatisfied. He takes no notice 
of the arguments of Bourgeois and Martin Plnlippson. Finally: 

M. Sorel’s views are not sufficiently supported by facts and the critical method 
behind them is not sound enough to permit of their unreserved acceptance. 1 


The story in Volume VI of the failure of the peace of Amiens, and the argument 
that Britain never took the peace seriously, are essential in the construction of 
Sorel’s work, but equally important in his account of the completion and the 
purpose of the Third Coalition (Russia, Austria, and Britain, 1805), particularly 
the Anglo-Russian alhance of 11 April 1805. His presentation, however, is so 
distorted, that I propose, for the orientation of the reader, to give a short summary 
of the facts as set out by another writer, Edouard Driault, with whom I shall be 
dealing in more detail later. In his NapoUon et V Europe Driault went over the 
whole ground covered by Sorel some years later. His second volume, with which 
we are concerned here, dates from 1912. 

Napoleon had been at war with Britain since 1803. As we already know, in- 
stead of concentrating all his attention on the proposed Channel expedition, he 
had simultaneously pursued his Italian ambitions, thereby alarming and irritat- 
ing both Russia and Austria, Russia by his occupation of Tarento in Naples in 
1803 (Russia’s interest in the eastern shores of the Mediterranean made her always 
sensitive here), and Austria by making the Cisalpine Republic into a kingdom 
with himself as king, in defiance of the treaty of Luneville which guaranteed 
its independence. To make matters worse, he took the title of King of Italy, 
which gave rise to suspicion of the most far-reaching plans. Announced March 
1805, the coronation took place at Milan in May of the same year. Europe was 
even more agitated by the subsequent annexation of Genoa (the Ligurian Re- 
public) to the French Empire. The annexation of Piedmont in 1802, the first 

1. I must note here a little book which appeared in 1904, shortly after S Orel’s sixth 
volume: Napoleon et VAngleterre, 1803-1813 , by P. Coquelle. It disputes Sorel’s 
theory (which was also that of Bignon, Armand Lefebvre, and Thiers, as the writer 
points out) concerning the breach of the peace of 1803, on the grounds of new data from 
French and British archives. Coquelle depicts Napoleon as quite consciously shaping his 
course for war, because he expected to get his Imperial crown through war; he considers 
that the English showed remarkable patience under his rudeness and provocations, and 
that the annexation of Holland was the chief factor which made them decide on war. 
Coquelle was not a University historian (see p. 315 below). In various places he expresses 
himself quite sharply concerning Napoleon, but in the Introduction - this is typical of his 
period - he thinks it necessary more or less to apologize for this. 



definite step taken outside the natural frontiers, had discredited the peace of 
Amiens in the eyes of the British public and so contributed to the renewal of 
the war. Since then, Napoleon had solemnly declared that the period of annexa- 
tions was over. The anxiety and suspicion over this new action in Prussia as 
well as in Austria were all the greater. 

That the elements were present here for the restoration of the coalition twice 
broken by French victories needs no argument. Yet it still proved a difficult 
business. Britain and Russia distrusted one another’s ambitions in the basin of 
the eastern Mediterranean little less than both distrusted those of France. Austria 
hardly dared put her military strength to a third test, particularly if Prussia 
persisted in her neutrality. After abortive discussions in London between 
Novosiltsov and Pitt, who had returned to office shortly after the renewal of 
hostilities, an Anglo-Russian alliance was completed on n April 1805 at St 
Petersburg. Not until August, after the Milan coronation and the annexation of 
Genoa, was this enlarged to include Austria, though still with many reservations 
and merely through the exchange of notes in St Petersburg. Without waiting for 
the new coalition to be given a more secure form, Austria in her negotiations 
with France now took a tone which savoured of an ultimatum. Napoleon did 
not need pressing, and there followed that lightning switch from Boulogne 
to the Rhine, to the Danube, to Ulm and Austerlitz. 

Anyone who approaches Sorel’s account of these preliminaries to the new 
continental war with some knowledge of the facts will find it surprising reading. 
We know that he regards all Napoleon’s wars as having no ultimate purpose 
other than the maintenance of those ‘natural frontiers’ inherited by the First 
Consul from the Directorate. How does he manage to justify that thesis here? 

One of his methods is to make appear as innocent as possible those abuses of 
power on the part of Napoleon which gave Europe the impression of unbridled 
aggressiveness. He does not, for instance, so much as mention the fact that the 
independence of the Cisalpine Republic had been guaranteed by the treaty of 
Luneville. 1 His account of the new settlement begins thus: 

The Italian Republic, 3 the object of Austria's covetousness [so ugly a word as 
convoitise he would not easily bring himself to use for Napoleon] the aim of her 
armies, was the fortress of French domination in Italy. 

He does not actually say that this justification covers everything, but that is the 
implication. He writes in the same way about the annexation of Genoa: 

Napoleon deemed Genoa as essential on the seaward side as Piedmont on the land. 

1. vr, 427. 

2. This was the name given to the Cisalpine Republic even before it was turned into 
a kingdom. 



The English in Genoa [not, of course, that they actually were in that town] meant 
a threat to Provence. Moreover he needed trained seamen. 1 

And that is all. 

On the other hand, the attention of the reader is constantly drawn not only 
to the ‘covetousness’ but also to the cunning, deceitfulness, and treachery of 
the other powers. Earlier in the chapter La Coalition, the defensive nature of 
Napoleon’s activities is deliberately brought into relief: 

The entire policy, all the military preparations of Napoleon, turned on two aims: 
either to prevent or to retard the coalition, keeping Europe in suspense, now with 
coups de prestige, then again with promises, until the day of his crossmg to England; 
or, if the crossing proved impossible and he judged himself to be threatened on the 
continent, to throw himself upon Germany and establish his control there, to 
crush Austria before the arrival of the Russians, thus making any coalition against 
France for ever impossible, and since he had been unable to annihilate English 
power in London, to reduce them to their island and to turn the coalition against 
them. 2 

Should the Italian crown and the annexation of Genoa come under the heading 
of innocent coups de prestige ? Or are they already to be numbered among the 
defensive measures taken by a Napoleon who feels himself threatened? And 
would not a mention of the fact that other powers felt themselves threatened 
have been relevant? 

But when he deals with the agreements of April and August 1805, which at 
last brought Britain, Russia, and Austria more or less in accord with one another, 
Sorel sees only one tiling, and that he tries to impress upon his readers with all 
the force of his strong dialectical powers and his stylistic art. ‘Europe’ is uniting 
in order to fall upon France, and under fair pretexts and to the accompaniment 
of fine-sounding slogans to thrust her back behind her old frontiers. The instruc- 
tions given to Novosiltsov, on the occasion of his abortive mission to London 
in 1804, according to Sorel, betray the fundamental, the real aims of Russia. 
The fine sentiments with which Alexander was so free - indeed the views of 
his French tutor, a typical philosophe, had made a lifelong impression on bim 
- were entirely mendacious. He wanted, so ran the document given to Nov- 
osiltsov, to deprive the French of their strongest weapon, the general opinion 
that they were fighting for the liberty of the peoples, and to turn that weapon 
against them. The purpose of the war was to liberate France as well as the rest 
of Europe from the yoke of Napoleon. France was in no way to be forced back 
into the ancien regime and its abuses. It was this fine talk, says Sorel, by which the 
French liberals were actually ensnared in 1814. The French will be told, so run 
the cunning instructions of Alexander for his emissary, that they can retain the 

1. vi, 435. 2. vi, 378. 



Rhine frontier, but among themselves the Allies will agree that France’s frontiers 
are to be limited by ‘the Alps and the Rhine to a certain height*. There, exclaims 
Sorel, you have tout le fin [all the finesse] de V affaire. The French will think that this 
means a frontier from Basle to the mouth of the Rhine, but once victory is gained, 
they will be told that a frontier from Basle to the Lauter was actually intended 1 
- that is, one that includes Alsace and Lorraine but excludes the Rhineland, 
Belgium, North Brabant, and Zeeland. This Sorel appears to regard as an un- 
endurable and humiliating situation. 

The Anglo-Russian treaty is concluded in April. And now Sorel is firmly 
convinced - the instructions given to Novosiltsov proved it - that la pensee 
deiriere la tete of the contracting parties, the idea * which dominates the remainder 
of the agreement and through which it is to be elucidated*, is that the war is to 
be carried on, in order to push France back behind her old frontiers. This idea 
was maintained to the very end, and in particular in 1813 ; we shall later see how 
debatable it is even as regards 1813. But it might be objected that this idea is 
not to be found in the treaty. Not in so many words, Sorel admits. Tt was not 
deemed expedient, it was even considered dangerous to insert it into the treaty.’* 
He gives not a single proof, not a single quotation either from Russian or British 
sources, to back his assertion. 

The most subtle trick, according to Sorel, in this thoroughly cunning and 
treacherous treaty, is the provision that a congress is to be held after the war and 
that Russia and Britain will not make peace with France without the agreement 
of all the allied powers, the members of the alliance. The purpose of this (‘not 
obvious, but juridically certain’) is that if one of the allies has persuaded Napoleon 
to negotiate, another can demand the congress, so that Napoleon could not 
begin the war afresh without bringing about his own destruction. 3 

The argument really becomes too far-fetched here. It is not surprising that 
Driault considers this one of the passages in which Sorel’s thesis ‘is most exposed 
to criticism*. 4 Driault’s sober and matter-of-fact account, in the course of which 
he more than once directly joins issue with Sorel, is by comparison refreshing. 

When he in his turn analyses Novosiltsov’s instructions, he points out that 
there is no need to discover a snare in the reassurances which were to be given 
to the French concerning the new regime, and their freedom to make a choice. 
Alexander tried to carry out his ‘republican’ ideas in his domestic policy also. 5 
As regards the article concerning ‘the Rhine to a certain point*, 

1. vi, 390. 2. vi, 416. 3. vi, 419. 

4. Napoleon et V Europe , 11, 198 note. 

5. Napoleon et VEurope , 11, 124. It goes without saying that much more could be said 
about the aims of Alexander and of Britain concerning France. One could point to the 
pertinacity with which both, though their points of view were so entirely different (in 
contrast to the stubborn attachment of the melancholy and unbalanced Tsar to his idea 

R - N.F.A. - 1 



this formula also need not be regarded as evidence of deep-laid wicked schemes of 
Machiavellian intent. It is merely an instance of the inexactitude which marks the 
whole document. Russia leaves to England, as being more mterested in Western 
Europe, the task of more exact formulation. 

Nothing is more natural than the desire of reducing France to its old frontiers 
in the case of c a successful war’. In view of the fact that successful war had to be 
waited for till 1813-14, it is obvious that what happened then corresponds with 
the plans made in 1804-05 for this eventuality. 

But one is not entitled to deduce from this that before this successful war Napoleon 
would have been unable to consolidate once and for all the new territorial greatness 
of France. 

If only he had known how to moderate his ambitions just enough to prevent 
agreement between his potential enemies I 1 Indeed, how difficult it was, even, so, 
to establish this coalition of 1805, which does not even deserve the name of 
coalition. All this talk about ‘ Europe’ which grudged France its power, and of 
* Europe * winch followed its aim with cunning determination, misses the mark: 
‘Was there a Europe?’ 2 Even Napoleon’s ‘indefatigable activity’ was hardly 
enough to remove the difficulties. 3 The treaty of 11 April 1805, which Sorel 
takes so tragically, which caused Armand Lefebvre to foam at the mouth - ‘let 
us keep calm’, says Driault after quoting the latter* - this treaty, ‘full of high- 
sounding phrases, of which some were in the conditional’ is in Driault’s opinion 
mainly a proof of the mutual rivalries and suspicions against which the would-be 
allies had to struggle. In any case, he says: 

It is a sophistry to allege that the conditions to be imposed upon a defeated France 
were intended for the glorious France of 1805, and that the Emperor was therefore 
compelled to fight against an eternal coalition [?] for the protection of France’s new 
frontiers. * 

Indeed, even if one looks more closely at the secret articles intended for the 
situation resulting from ‘a successful war’, one will see that there is no question 

1. ‘ Combien il eut 6 t 6 facile sk Napoleon de rompre cette coalition si fragile ! H lui eut 
fallu settlement quelque moderation’ (op. at. p. 219). 

2. op. cat. p. 1 13. 3. op. cit. p. 194. 4. op. cat. p. 198. 5. op. cit. p. 201. 

of a united Europe, there was Britain’s sober calculation concerning national sovereignty, 
for herself but also for others), resisted in 1814-15 the desire for annexation of great and 
small German powers, which might have cost France a good deal more than the natural 
frontiers won at the Revolution. See for example the suggestive book by W. Alison 
Phillips, The Confederation of Europe (1914). 



of depriving France of the Rhineland or the former Austrian Netherlands. It 
was only the country north of the line Antwerp-Maastricht that was to have 
been added to a Dutch State under the restored House of Orange. 

Perhaps the main point made clear by Driault is that the coalition was the 
product of the provocations of Napoleon. 

By crowning himself King of Italy, Napoleon provided a sufficient reason for the 
formation of the Third Coalition; it remained surest foundation. The annexation 
of Genoa supplied the immediate occasion. 1 

The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, on receiving this piece of news, wrote 
exulungly of ‘Bonaparte’s latest folly’. 

Driault deals somewhat ironically with Napoleon’s excuses in the case of the 
royal crown of Lombardy. The Emperor began by offering this crown to 
Joseph. As though this were a particularly virtuous and self-denying action, he 
announced it at once to the Emperor of Austria, who was of course an interested 
party owing to the Treaty of Luneville. Needless to say, the offer was looked 
upon in a somewhat different light in Vienna, but matters became much worse 
when it was known that Joseph had refused the crown and Napoleon pretended 
that he now had no option but to take the burden upon himself. Sorel puts all 
the blame upon Joseph, who is said to have placed the Emperor in an awkward 
position. Driault, however, is convinced that Napoleon had foreseen Joseph’s 
refusal and what is more had provoked it by putting unacceptable conditions. 
One feels a momentary surprise when reading Driault’s conclusion that indeed 

only Napoleon the Emperor could be King of Italy. The iron crown of the 
Lombard kings could belong only to the possessor of the crown of Charlemagne. 
To give it to anyone else would have been an absurdity in the light of history and a 
political blunder which it was impossible for him to commit. 3 

In other places, too, we are struck by expressions of generous admiration for the 
policy of war and expansion which is at the same time described with so much 
frankness. These are some of the author’s idiosyncrasies which will find their 
place in the picture I shall give at a later stage of him and his work. Here I have only 
drawn attention to the passages where he dispels the apologetic fog of defensive 
intentions with which Sorel tried to cover the history ofNapoleon. 

As for Sorel, we can already foresee how he will be going to treat 1813 and 
1814. All attempts to sunder the French nation and its dictator will be deception, 
all inclination to fall in with it will be treason. For all their apparently moderate 
peace offers, the Allies will have one purpose only, that of breaking French resis- 
tance, and Napoleon’s sole duty will be to resist to the bitter end. 

1. op. cit. p. 212. 2. op. dt. p. 163. 




I have pointed out that unlike Thiers, who draws the line at Napoleon’s wars 
after 1805, Sorel tries to explain as defensive the whole apparently excessive 
policy right down to the catastrophe. Faithful to his thesis, in the years described 
in his seventh volume he secs Napoleon involved in a tragic struggle to preserve 
and to consolidate the position of power which France had acquired as early 
as the days of the Convention, the position within her natural frontiers, even 
though these had been further and further left behind. A tragic struggle, because 
he was always victorious and every victory made his position more untenable, 
in a Europe subjected but not reconciled, a Europe which no doubt underwent 
the influence of France and of the Revolution represented by Napoleon and 
became profoundly transformed by it, but only to turn the spirit thus roused 
against the conqueror and oppressor himself. This development, which appeared 
fust in Spain, then in Germany, surprised Napoleon. He never learnt to under- 
stand it, unless perhaps when looking back from St Helena. 

Sorel has no illusions about this lack of understanding. 

By now there are Germans in Germany [it will be remembered (see p. 239 ff.) how 
he described Bonaparte as seeing only * herds’ there] and perhaps the most peculiar 
thing about the French supremacy is that it has discovered them to the Germans 
themselves, most certainly without Napoleon’s knowledge and against all his 
calculations. Dalberg, the most grovelling courtier of them all, Prince Primate, and 
the last survivor of the ecclesiastical princes, 1 even Dalberg would have liked to see 
a new Germany spring from the Confederation of the Rhine. ‘ Rubbish,’ Napoleon 
said, ‘I have made short work of these fancies . . , In Germany the common people 
want to be protected against the great ones; the great ones want to govern at 
their pleasure; now since I do not desire anything from the Confederation but 
troops and money, and it is the great ones and not the common people who can 
supply me with both, I let the great ones alone, and the others will have to manage 
as best they can.’ 3 

No wonder Chateaubriand (‘who took a more distant and a higher view’, as 
Sorel puts it) judged the Confederation of the Rhine, originally a profound 
conception, to have degenerated rapidly into a fiscal and mili tary machine : ‘The 
tax-collector and the recruiting sergeant took the place of the great man.’ 

But, for all its gross materialism [continues Sorel], the system is there, and it has 
far-reaching effects. Napoleon deals with taxable material and camion fodder, but 
that material is human flesh, it is human labour, and the process produces a con- 

I. Archbishop of Mayence. 2 . vii, 486 . 



sciousness and a soul. Human beings spring from the clay that has been turned up, 
dug, and ploughed . . . Napoleon thought that by effacing so many frontiers and 
drawing all these strategic roads he was merely tracing the way from his barracks; 
in fact he was opening the roads to a fatherland. 

The rights of Man, the dignity of Man, preached by Rousseau - the effectiveness 
of will-power and the need for action, displayed by the French Revolution 
- these things are discovered at last by the Germans under the whip of the 
conqueror. They too want to be a nation, and they exchange their dissolvent 
cosmopolitanism for patriotic selfishness. Such are the unforeseen shapes into 
which the ideas spread by Napoleon are translated. 

Meanwhile in France the dynamism of these ideas has weakened. France has 
become an empire of Diocletian. Napoleon himself used the comparison in 
referring to his domination after 1810. Sorel writes : 

It is a Diocletian’s empire in respect of the administration, the codes, the entire 
apparatus of government, the barbarians employed in military service, the fortified 
frontier provinces, and furthermore, outside, the mystery of the forests and of the 
limitless plains, of the Scythians, the Sarmates, and the Slavs. 1 

Sorel admires that organization for its fitness, as shown by its durability. Succes- 
sive regimes have been able to make it serve, with slight adaptions; and it 
continues to exist, freshly painted and given a new dress at every revolution. 2 
That under Napoleon no liberty was left, our great realist admits with as it were 
a shrug of the shoulders. Political freedom had been abused, and people were 
content with civil freedom. 

National pride and political servitude - that is what the Convention and its com- 
mittees had educated the French people up to. This French people, proud of its 
Revolution, though above all happy to have got it over, still looked upon itself as 
being the most enlightened people of the Universe, a torch among the nations, the 
lord of the world; and this, too, is after all a conception, and a very Roman one, of 
liberty. 3 

Sorel, however, is perfectly aware of the fact that this conception no longer 
possessed the impulse by which Napoleon in his early days had felt himself 
propelled (see p. 260). Nevertheless he puts every emphasis upon the fact that 
the Emperor and the Empire were still popular, and particularly with those 
classes which bore the heaviest burdens of the war, the peasants and the workers. 
And in fact, there was much material well-being in France; the Continental 
System was not as yet a burden to the French. But an opposition did exist, and 
it was serious, however hidden and secret ; it was found among the high officers, 

1. vn, 462. 

2. We have seen Vandal give another account (p. 206 above). 3. vn, 462. 



the court dignitaries, the senators; and among the officials, especially those 
of the higher ranks. Needless to look to Sorel for much sympathy towards these 
people’s point of view. He is sure to have read Mme de Remusat with scepticism. 
The explanation of the phenomenon he finds in the fact that Napoleon, ‘after 
his coronation as Emperor, and more and more as he ceased to be the Emperor 
of the Republic in order to become a sovereign like the others*, began to draw 
his higher personnel from among the royalist rallies . 1 This was a grave mistake. 
There was nothing to attach these men to the Revolution or consequently to 
an Emperor who had emerged from the Revolution. 

After having got everything they could out of the imperial regime, it became their 
care to preserve their spoils in titles and goods under the new regime [which they 
felt coming, and their relations to which they were already preparing] . . . Down 
to 1806, a royalist restoration would have roused to resistance all the interests in the 
country, all the prejudices of the men in whose hands, in that centralized state, 
rested power . . . After 1810, it could count on all possible facihties ... It was not 
disobedience or insubordination; it was a treacherous readiness to do without the 
Emperor, to wish silently for his disappearance, to acquiesce in it beforehand . . . 
Peace within contracted frontiers and ‘the Empire without the Emperor*. 

While revolutionary dynamism was thus weakened in France, new feelings 
and passions were aroused in the defeated peoples by the principles of the Revolu- 
tion and even by their very subjugation. Towards the end of the book tins 
change is made visible graphically in the form of a striking contrast. Napoleon 
is staying at Dresden, surrounded by the throng of Ins vassals, before he starts 
upon his last enterprise, the expedition to Moscow, which is at last going to lead 
him to a fixed point of rest. At the same time, in the environment of Alexander, 
who is at Vilna awaiting the shock, tense excitement prevails. 

Everyone working in Europe against Napoleon hurried to that court ... If 
Napoleon had secured the services of the rulers, Alexander summoned the peoples. 
He concluded an agreement with the delegate of the national Cortes of Spain, He 
built up a general staff, a secret chancellery, of enemies of France, a proselytizing 
agency to rouse the nations of Europe, equally dangerous, but even more deceptive, 
than had been Jacobin proselytism formerly. There you have the great prosenpt 
Stein, 3 together with English agents and agents of the Neapolitan Bourbons; then 
there are the news-writers, the declared enemies, indisenminately, of Napoleon, 
of la grande, nation, and of the French Revolution . . . Even the failures of desertion 

1. vii, 468; ‘soit pour les rallier, soit qu’il les juge plus dociles’; ‘peu dociles’ must be 
a misprint in my edition. The remark of Napoleon is well known: ‘Ce ne sont que ces 
gens-la qui savent servir.* 

2. The great minister of Prussia, whose reformist policy was intended to raise the 
country after the disaster of i 8 o< 5 s but who was dismissed by the Kong at Napoleon’s 



and plotting are called to the rescue, Dumouriez, for instance, 1 2 and especially that 
successful Dumouriez, that Dumouriez already very nearly crowned, Bernadette 3 4 
. . . To rouse Poland with the deceptive bait of independence, Germany with that 
of greatness, France with that of liberty ‘within the natural frontiers’, 3 Spam with 
that of liberation from alien rule and of a free government - these are the aims for 
which they all work with equal zest, some falsely, others in good faith, all for the 
benefit of Alexander. They woo him for the support of his strong arm, they stir 
him up to the crusade, as in 1791 at Pilrntz the French emigres incited the King of 
Bohemia and of Hungary* and the Kang of Prussia to go and crush V infame, the 
French Revolution. But the course of events had been reversed. French emigration 
in 1791 went against the current of the time; aristocratic, a caste movement, anti- 
national, summoning the foreigner to take arms against the French people’s 
independence, it went under in the maelstrom. The Emigres surrounding Alexander 
were members of what were essentially national movements; each of those exiles 
spoke on behalf of his nation, and together they were stirring up so many national 
revolutions; they represented the independence and the liberty of their respective 
peoples. The effect of their action, favoured by tide and wind, was bound to be 
formidable. The prestige and power of the French Revolution had resided in the 
dual character which was also noticeable in the revolution preached by these exiles ; 
for the prestige, a cosmopolitan, completely ideal programme, which would make 
it possible to unite the various peoples in one war; for the power, a patriotic and 
national plan, differing for each of the allies. 

While Alexander, transformed into a liberator of nations, was holding that 
singular congress of subjected nations in Vilna, at Dresden Napoleon, the Emperor 
of the Republic, was collecting about him - and here was a still more surprising 
change - a court of monarchs . . . He received his father-in-law the Emperor, his 
ally on parchment, but in whose soul lurked defection; and the King of Prussia, 
faithful in words, a traitor in his heart 5 . . . The Kings of Bavaria and of Wiirttem- 
berg were obsequious and servile. But Napoleon divines the treason in the heart of 
kings, he has a presentiment of the resistance of the peoples ... At moments the 
infirmity of his system is apparent to him. . . , 6 

1. The general, who conquered the Austrian Netherlands in 1792, but who, having 
joined the opposition during the Terror, entered into negotiations with the enemy and 
had finally to go over without his army. 

2. General Bemadotte, brother-in-law of Joseph, had always been somewhat reserved 
towards Napoleon. Nevertheless he had been made Marshal and Prince of Ponte Corvo. 
In 1810 Sweden chose him as heir to the crown, and since he refused to promise Napoleon 
that he would never take arms against France, his princedom was taken away from him. 

3. Deceptive bait ( leurre ), because Sorel considers that it was from the beginning 
intended to drive France back to her old frontiers; nor would the Spaniards get a ‘free 

4. Leopold n, still not crowned Emperor of the German Empire. 

5. Feal and felon; both terms in feudal law. 

< 5 . vii, 571-3. 



A truly grandiose conception provides the basis of this volume, and it has 
been carried out with a master’s hand: strong, fresh, vivacious, and witty, and 
with surprising insight. 

The integrating factor is the recurring representation of the ‘natural frontiers’ 
as the purpose of the wars and as the real motive of the conquests. This does not 
reduce the work’s dimensions; though if one takes historical acceptability as 
the test, it is the weak point. In this volume the argumentation becomes almost 

I have pointed out (p. 86 ff.) that Lanfrey - one among many - presented 
Alexander’s attitude in the gradually increasing tension before the crisis all too 
innocently. As Vandal has established, Alexander had taken considerable military 
measures. But it is quite another thing to conclude from this that he was pre- 
paring an attack, or even that he had not the slightest reason for being afraid of 
the continued expansion of Napoleon’s power. When Caulaincourt, Napo- 
leon’s ambassador with Alexander, arrives in Paris in 1811, he beseeches his 
master not to embark upon the crazy adventure of a Russian campaign. Cau- 
laincourt was one of the very few who dared maintain an attitude of their own 
against the master; he was a man of unfaltering loyalty and a man of character. 
Napoleon angrily reproached him for having been won over by Alexander, 
the trickster. But through Caulaincourt, Sorel remarks bitterly, the Tsar was 
able to convince his contemporaries and the historians that Napoleon alone had 
willed the war and prepared it. 

Napoleon looked upon that war as inevitable; he thought so and he said so, but 
there was no one to believe him any more. He was struggling against his own fate 
and against posterity in that dramatic conversation with Caulaincourt. 1 

Caulaincourt warned him that Alexander was feeling concerned about Napo- 
leon’s plans for Poland. Napoleon objected that he had merely taken measures 
which must deprive the British of all hope and compel them to make peace. 

Thus [speculates Sorel] matters were reduced to the state in which they had stood 
after the peace of Amiens and before Austerlitz. Then Holland and Italy had been 
at stake, of which countries Russia demanded the evacuation. The result of six years 
of war, of Jena, of Friedland, of Wagram, was to transplant the dispute to Poland; 
but the dispute remains the same. Holland had to be taken, in order to secure 
Belgium; Germany to be overthrown and dominated, for the retention of the left 
bank of the Rhine; Naples to be subjected, Rome to be annexed, so that Piedmont, 
Lombardy, and Venetia might be kept; the conquest of Spain was dictated by the 
need to have forces free to deal with Austria, that of Poland by the requirements of 
the war in Spain; the annihilation of Prussia was necessary for the securing of one 
of the Empire’s flanks, the enslavement of Austria for that of the other. Napoleon 

i. vii, 538. 



fears that as soon as he loosens his hold on Poland, the Russians will advance in 
Germany, and that Prussia, seeing him retreat, and the Spaniards, thinking his 
position to be endangered, will at once take the offensive; Austria, which has all the 
time been playing for safety, will then also take a hand; he, Napoleon, will be 
obliged to summon his troops out of Italy, and, Italy once evacuated, the Mediter- 
ranean will belong to the English. The coalition will automatically be revived, 
history will turn back in its course : after the evacuation of Poland, that of Germany 
will be demanded; after Germany, Italy and Holland; after Italy and Holland, 
Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine. That is to say, in 1S11 he guesses at the 
secret plans revolved by Alexander in 1804, which in 1813 and 1814 are to be 
translated only too faithfully into the deeds of the Coalition. 1 

It would be possible to make a criticism of this interpretation similar to that 
of Driault on Sorel’s account of the completion of the coalition in 1805. In fact 
Sorel is doing no more than follow Napoleons own presentation of events. 2 
At the very time when he was arming himself against Russia, Napoleon spoke 
in public about the war ‘against Carthage’. The Continental System, which 
Bourgeois sees as a piece of propaganda to divert attention from the Emperor’s 
real plans, was taken by Napoleon in deadly earnest, according to Sorel. He 
believed that by it he could subjugate Britain, and it was his grim determination 
to carry out his plan that led him from one annexation to another, on the shores 
of the Baltic, the North Sea, the Mediterranean. It was, says Sorel in summing 
up, ‘the raison d’etre of his grand empire’.* Tilsit, which Bourgeois connects with 
the oriental schemes, is summarized by Sorel as : 

War to the death against England, that is Tilsit; and to pay for this war, war 
against Turkey.* 

Driault discussed this seventh volume in the Revue d’histoire moderne et con - 
temporaine . While expressing the greatest admiration, he pointed out the obvious 
exaggeration of which Sorel is guilty in these passages. He too argues the con- 
nexion between the South Italian and Dalmatian conquests and eastern schemes 
which c ann ot possibly be counted among the defensive measures against Britain. 
Not that he tried, like Bourgeois, to explain everything by the eastern factor: 
the German settlements explained themselves. As to the overriding preoccupa- 
tion with the war against Britain, which Sorel finds everywhere and which 
can in practice be traced back to a determination to hold the Low Countries in 
spite of Britain, Driault makes a comment which we have (pp. 221, 224) already 
heard from Bourgeois. 

No doubt Eng lan d is incessantly mentioned in Napoleon’s correspondence, and 
particularly in his Bulletins de la grande Armie , in his Messages au Senat , in his most 

1 . vii, 541. 2 . vii, 114. 3 * vii, 504* 4 - vii, 187. 



impressive proclamations. Was not this for him the only way to win popular 
approval for his insatiably bellicose policy, to justify it at least to a certain extent, 
to place himself in the right with public opinion and later on with the opinion of 
historians? It was essential to put forward some explanation of that mad ten years’ 
chase across Europe. England was unwilling to disarm: there you had an excuse for 
all enterprises, against whomsoever they might be directed. 1 


The last volume of U Europe et la Revolution Jrangaise is the weakest of the eight. 
This is because the thesis has to be defended from beginning to end, against 
overwhelming odds in the shape of facts and probability. Nowhere else in the 
whole work does the thesis rule so supreme, and nowhere else is it so untenable. 
As we saw from the last quotation from Volume VII, and as we already knew 
(see p. 256), Sorel believed that the sole aim of the allies in 1813 and 1814 was to 
deprive France of all her conquests, including the ‘natural frontiers’. Indeed, 
according to his view, they had cherished this ambition for twenty years, coali- 
tion or no coalition, in war or in peace. It goes without saying, therefore, that after 
the Russian disaster they prepared to make good their opportunity. Now the fact 
is that during the last year and a half there were continual negotiations in the 
interludes between the military operations. Sorel argues that Napoleon never 
had a chance to obtain peace without sacrificing the ‘natural frontiers* for which 
he had fought for so many years in Italy and in Spain, in Austria and in Prussia, 
on the Vistula and the Beresina, and to which his ‘new dipartements 9 (Holland 
and the north-west comer of Germany, ‘the Hansa towns’, the west of north 
and central Italy and the Illyrian provinces), his Confederation of the Rliine, 
his vassal kingdoms, his Duchy of Warsaw, were but the outer defences. Thus 
it was not Napoleon’s blind obstinacy which upset the negotiations, brought 
war at last to French soil and to Paris, and swept him to Fontainebleau and Elba, 
but the unreasonableness of ‘Europe’, which grudged France the Rhineland and 

Such was not the current view, even in France. As we have already seen, both 
Bignon and Thiers considered that in the summer of 1813 Napoleon wantonly 
neglected the chance of an honourable peace (p. 216). We have seen Prince 
Napoleon place the blame on Mettemich (p. 149). But Bourgeois, as we have seen 
(p. 226) once more looked for an explanation in Napoleon’s obstinate refusal to 
give up Illyria, his gate to the east, thus sacrificing France to his personal am- 

The culminating point of the negotiations was reached, as a matter of fact, 

1 . Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, vii, 223. 



at the Congress of Prague in July and August 1813, where what mattered was 
the attitude of Austria. This was Mettemich’s great moment. In describing the 
circumstances, I shall have recourse not only to Sorel’s account but to the mem- 
oirs of Mettcmich and of Caulaincourt, and in particular to an article by Driault 
in which he reviewed this eighth volume, at the same time giving an account 
of events based on his own research. 1 1 must add that this account, though ex- 
tremely interesting, seems to me somewhat simplified and for that reason too 
positive in places. 

Before his expedition against Russia, Napoleon had concluded alliances with 
both Austria and Prussia; if pressure had been needed in the case of the former, 
downright compulsion had to be applied to Prussia. We have seen (p. 263) 
how scathingly Sorel writes of the princes who came to grace the Emperor’s 
court. Is there not more occasion for amazement at the shortsightedness of 
Napoleon, who imagined that the rancour caused by his mad misuse of power 
could be overcome with ‘parchment’ arrangements? Prussia deserted in the 
midst of the retreat from Russia, and in a short time Russia and Prussia concluded 
an alliance at Kalisch. The spirit which had inspired the French Revolution was 
now busy on the other side, and the signatories addressed a stirring call to the 
German people. The new Allies also tried to detach the French people from Napo- 
leonic policy, in accordance, it will be noticed, with the ideas which Alexander 
had expounded to Novosiltsov in 1804. Austria too began to go her own way. 
That Austrian marriage, at the very moment when Napoleon expected it to 
work miracles, proved powerless to cast a spell on policy. 

As early as 16 December 1812 the Emperor Francis offered his mediation, a 
role very different from that prescribed by his obligations as ally. Mettemich 
saw a chance to restore Austria’s position. He soon let it be known on what 
grounds he considered peace to be possible. Prussia would have to be streng- 
thened with at least the return of her Polish territory (this implied the sacrifice 
of the Grand duchy of Warsaw, already indeed occupied by the Russians). 
France would have to forgo her recent German annexations, that is, the ‘Hansa 
towns’, as well as the protectorate of the Rhine Confederation. She would 
moreover have to return Illyria to Austria. To all this Napoleon answered with 
the most emphatic refusal to relinquish any territory annexed by a senatus 
consulte. He actually bound himself to this not very conciliatory attitude by 
public statements. The repercussions in Germany of the call to arms from Kalisch, 
the u nmis takable war-weariness in France itself and in lus own immediate circle 
- nothing induced him to hesitate. The fight must be fought to a finish. As Iris 
new ambassador in Vienna, Narbonne (whose predecessor Otto had been 

1. Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine , vm: ‘Napoleon et la paix en 1813, a 
propos du dernier volume d’ Albert Sorel.* 



recalled because like Caukincourt he was too much in favour of peace), wrote 
to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maret, Duke of Bassano: 

The Emperor will, I am sure, clear up everything with his magic wand, which for 
the moment can but be his sword ... So please ask him, were it but to lighten my 
task here, that he win me speedily one of those battles of Marengo, Austerhtz, or 
Jena. More I do not desire of him, to reduce every thing to peace and to render the 
universe happy. 

‘Here we have the authentic tone of Napoleonic diplomacy’, comments 
Driault. 1 One will look in vain for this passage among the quotations from 
Narbonne’s correspondence in Sorel. 

But the magic wand had lost its power. Luetzen and Bautzen (in May) cost 
the lives of tens of thousands of the yoimg men France had been obliged to 
provide, and though the latter battle was proclaimed a victory, it was in no 
sense decisive. Hus was all the more dangerous because Austria was using the 
delay to make preparations for war. 

Mediation had become armed mediation, and the idea of having to yield 
to the threats of his false ally filled Napoleon with bitter and fierce anger. Never- 
theless fear of Austria was a contributory factor in making him agree to a truce, 
which he intended to use to make his battered army once more fit for the field. 
The Russians, the Prussians, and the Austrians, however, were equally ready 
to put a couple of weeks to good use. It has often been considered since that the 
conclusion of the truce was the proof of his declining power even as a military 

What certainly had weakened was the spirit around him. Not only did the 
army consist to far too great an extent of hastily trained conscripts called up 
before their time, but the marshals themselves were tired. They were pining 
for rest, they grumbled and muttered among themselves. Even Maret - pre- 
viously a fierce believer in Napoleon and his power policy, and accustomed to 
carry out the wishes of his master with a certain impetuousness as behests of 
the divine law - wavered and with much caution and courteous respect allowed 
the unpleasant word ‘peace’ to escape him, and the still more unpleasant refer- 
ence to ‘confidence shaken \ a But Napoleon thought of nothing but a fresh 
test of arms. He was m any case determined not to submit to the Austrian yoke. 
Rather would he seek for a direct understanding with Russia. But he had no idea 
of the obstinacy with which Alexander was now determined on his downfall, 
a mistake which is perhaps partly to be attributed to the infl uence of Caulain- 
court, who longed passionately for peace and cherished illusions concerning 

I. Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, vm, 186. 

a. Sorel vm, 125. 



his friend the Tsar. Meanwhile, Napoleon’s gamble on coming events, or rather 
his unconcealed annoyance at the mediation, drove Austria further and further 
in the direction of Russia and Prussia, who had now reached agi cement with, 
Britain too. 

In S Orel’s reading of the situation, these four had really been in agreement 
from the outset, and all Mettcmich’s negotiations had had no other ami than 
to win time and to put Napoleon in the wrong with Europe and with Fiance. 
One has only to look at the realities of Austrian conditions and of Mettermcli’s 
policy to understand that the mediation was meant seriously, at any rate at 
first. The Kalisch manifesto had shocked the conservatism of Mettcrmch as much 
as that of his master Francis II. The popular enthusiasm in Germany made them 
feel thoroughly uncomfortable. They were uneasy moreover at the thought of 
the influence which Russia stood to gain in Europe from the fall of Napoleon, 
and they particularly disliked Alexander’s Polish plans. So true is this, that at the 
end of the war which they did after all fight together, the antagonism came to 
light once more : it will be remembered that in 1 815 it was touch and go whether 
a war by Austria supported by France (which then meant Talleyrand) and by 
Britain against Russia and Prussia would not put an untimely end to the Congress 
of Vienna. How obvious it would have been for Napoleon in his distressed 
situation of the summer of 1 8 1 3 - with Hamburg in revolt, supported by Sweden, 
and with the most deplorable news, Vittoria, soon to come from Spain - to 
accept Austria’s overtures. But he could not do it. 

The truce was to last till 10 August. On 26 July Napoleon received Mettemich 
at Dresden. Already then matters had assumed a sterner aspect. In conversations 
with the Prussians and the Russians at Reichenbach, Mettemich had prepared a 
treaty in which it was agreed that Austria would declare war on France if her 
agreement to certain peace proposals had not been obtained by 10 August. 

This Dresden meeting has become famous. 1 We possess two versions of it, 
one from each of the two antagonists; and there was no witness present, to tell 
us which was correct. According to his own memoirs, Mettemich was consider- 
ably more eloquent than he is made out to be in the note which Napoleon had 
made, according to which he scarcely said a word. Mettemich tells us that 
Marshal Berthier, Prince of Neufchatel, chief of the general staff, while ushering 
Fim in to the audience, anxiously asked whether he was bringing peace, and told 
him that France and Europe had need of it. Here we also find the story of Napo- 
leon’s angry outburst, provoked by a remark concerning the youthful appear- 
ance of his troops, in which he declared that Mettemich did not understand 
a soldier’s spirit, that he had never leamt to hold his own life cheap or that of 

1. cf. Fruin’s rectoral address, 1878: Verspr. Ceschr. ix, 356. 


A man such as I cares little for the lives of a million men . . . 

Mettemich, if we are to believe him, replied, that they ought to throw open the 
doors and the windows so that all Europe might hear. Whereupon Napoleon 
climbed down a little and said that of the 300,000 men he had lost in Russia, less 
than a tenth were French. To spare the French he had sacrificed Poles and Ger- 
mans. To this Mettemich replied: ‘You forget, Sire, that you are addressing a 

From Napoleon’s own report, too, it appears that the meeting was a stormy 
one. The Emperor began straight away with the most bitter reproaches. Austria 
had gone over to Ins enemies. ‘Without your ill-omened intervention, peace 
with Russia and Prussia would have been restored.’ What did Austria ash in 
return for neutrality? Would she be satisfied with Illyria? 

It seems to me that the basis of Napoleon’s policy reveals itself for one moment 
in these questions. He was ready to buy off Austria, if she would no longer con- 
cern herself with Russia and Prussia. Wliat infuriated him was the idea of media- 
tion. Mediation would inevitably lead to and had already gone a long way in 
the direction of collaboration between Austria and his enemies, and might well 
produce a settlement guaranteed by all of them against him. On the other hand, 
should the first possibility materialize, he would begin by disposing of Russia 
and Prussia - ‘my army is quite sufficient to make the Russians and the Prussians 
see reason’ - and would then be able to turn against Austria herself once more 
and recover what he had paid. In his outburst against Mettemich, Napoleon 
summed up what he imagined would be the result of acceding to the collective 
demands, to the following effect: 

If Austria (on these terms) got Illyria, she would not be content with that, but 
would want Italy too. Russia would want Poland, Sweden would want Norway, 
Prussia would demand Saxony, and Britain would put in a claim for Holland 
and Belgium. They wanted to tear the French Empire to pieces. And he, still in 
possession of half Europe, was expected meekly to withdraw his forces ! What 
sort of a figure did they mean to make him out before the French people? 

‘Oh, Mettemich, how much has England given you to decide you to play 
this role against me? 9 At these words (Mettemich always denied that they were 
spoken) Napoleon’s three-cornered hat, which he had under his arm, fell to the 
ground, and in the course of his angry outbursts he kept kicking it away, while 
Mettemich, who also mentions the incident, did not deign to pick it up for him. 
Accordmg to Mettemich, Napoleon’s last words were an infuriated threat: 
‘All, you persist, you still want to dictate to me. All right then, war ! But au 
revoir, in Vienna ! ’ And when, at his leaving, after an interview which had lasted 
for hours, Berthier hurried up to ask if he was satisfied, Mettemich according 



to liis o vvn report answered: ‘Yes, he has made everything abundantly clear. 
It is all up with him.* 

Immediately afterwards, Napoleon felt that he had handled the affair irn wisely, 
hi a second conversation he was amiability itself, and arrangements were made 
for a congress at Prague, where peace would be discussed under the now recog- 
nized armed mediation of Austria. But is it to be wondered that Mettemicli, 
already in a sceptical frame of mind after months of shilly-shallying and boasting, 
could now no longer beheve in the possibility of an agreement? Even then 
Napoleon did nothing which bore witness to any desire for peace. Qmte the 
opposite - the opportunity offered by the congress was allowed to pass. As 
Maret wrote to Narbonne on 17 June (the other French plenipotentiary Caulain- 
court was to keep the conference waiting till 28 July) Napoleon wanted to draw 
out the negotiations if possible till 20 August, because by then the harvest would 
be in, which would be an advantage for the new campaign. He hoped, moreover, 
that time would allay the ardours of Prussia and Russia, and that Austria too 
would think again when she saw the tremendous forces he was collecting both 
here and in Italy. The cause of the unfruitfulness of the Prague Congress has 
often been sought ; it is sought by Sorel in the ill will of the allies. But is not, asks 
Driault, 1 this letter explanation enough? It was not Caulaincourt’s fault that he 
stayed away so long. He had tried every means to avoid leaving for Prague, if he 
was to be sent with evasive instructions; but at the same time he did his very best 
to move Napoleon to a more conciliatory mood. He urged giving up the new 
German dipartements and the Confederation of the Rhine. In return he got angry 
answers, doors were slammed on him, reproaches heaped on his head. 2 3 After 
days wasted in this way, he did obtain a promise, but to his disappointment it 
was followed by a perfectly useless instruction. 

So, once at Prague, he could not refrain from going beyond his instructions 
in bringing pressure to bear on Mettemich. He even did it in a way which accord- 
ing to French historians^ verges on treason, though it can also be said that his 
action is only another proof of the disapproval, not to say despair, with which 
Frenchmen with any sense of responsibility regarded the Emperor’s line of con- 

Look on me [said Caulaincourt, who now sought comfort no longer from Russia 
but from Austria] as the representative not of the Emperor’s whims, but of his and 
France’s true interests. I am, in the questions now at issue, as good a European as 

1. Revue d’kistoire modeme et contemporaine , vii, 190. 

2. This all from Ca ulain court himself: Memoires du general de Caulaincourt , Due de 
Vicence , Introduction . . . par Jean Hanoteau, 1933 ? L * 53 * 

3. op. dt. p. 156. 



you are. Promote our return to France, be it by peace or war, and you will earn the 
blessings of the entire French people and of all the Emperor’s sensible servants and 
friends. 1 2 

Metternich now uttered a grave warning that Austria had pledged herself 
to declare war on France if nothing had been obtained by 10 August. The 
transmission of ‘that threat* earned Caulaincourt a reprimand, but at any rate 
Napoleon now allowed him to ask for the conditions. More days were lost 
owing to an undoubtedly obstructive absence of the Emperor from Dresden. 
His question was dated 5 August. The conditions Metternich laid down were: 
another partition of Poland between the neighbouring states; restoration of 
Hamburg and Liibeck, and abandonment in principle of the rest of the new 
German dipartements and of the protectorate over the Confederation of the 
Rhine; restoration of Prussia, with a tenable frontier on the Elbe (which meant 
that the former territories of Prussia in the west, now part of the Kingdom of 
Westphalia and of the French realm, were not demanded back) ; Illyria was to 
return to Austria; all the powers, great and small, were mutually to guarantee 
their possessions. 

Caulaincourt sent the document to the Emperor, together with an impassioned 

No doubt Your Majesty will see in this ultimatum some sacrifice of amour-propre, 
but there will be no real sacrifice for France ... I beseech you, Sire, let all the 
chances of war be weighed in the balance with peace; have regard to the irritation 
in men’s hearts, the state into which Germany will be thrown when Austria 
declares herself, France’s fatigue, her noble devotion, the sacrifices she made after 
the Russian disasters; listen to the prayers of this same France for peace, to the 
prayers of your faithful servants, true Frenchmen, who like myself are bound to 
tell you that Europe’s fever must be allayed. 3 4 

But Napoleon’s answer, which could only be conveyed after the fatal term, 
11 August, was on the usual lines. It consisted of two counter-proposals, the 
second of which was to be put forward only in case of necessity. Sorel does not 
consider it necessary to state the first; yet it is important enough. In return for 
the partitioning of Warsaw (which he ‘did not mind’ in itself), 3 Napoleon 
wanted compensation for the Grand duke, the king of Saxony, and that in 
the form of Prussian and Austrian territory. In the Prussian territory, Berlin 
was included . . . Prussia would thus become in the main a Slav state.* Metter- 
nich’s remark that this did not give the impression that the Emperor wanted a 

1. Sorel viii, 165. 

2 . Sorel viii, 173, and Caulaincourt i, 157. 

3. Caulaincourt i, 151. 

4. Revue de Vhistoire modeme et contemporaine , viii, 193. 


durable peace Is only too understandable. And even in the second proposal he 
still tried to bargain. Napoleon refused, for example, to let Hamburg and Trieste 
go; there was still mention of compensation for Saxony, at the expense of 
Prussia and Austria. The negotiations were broken off. War was left, and war 
not only with Russia and Prussia but with Austria also. At Leipzig, Napoleon 
was to find out what that meant. 

Sorel, who has been at pains throughout his account to show that Metter- 
nich’s sole purpose was to reach active cooperation with Russia and Prussia 
(and I have already pointed out that he neglects very important factors), makes 
no comment upon Caulaincourt’s appeal to Napoleon, other than to say that 
it was naive of him to believe that the Emperor’s affirmative could have brought 
peace. At the eleventh hour, no doubt, everything had gone too far for the pro- 
cess to be arrested by one word. But is not Caulaincourt’s complaint (in a letter 
to Maret) that this affair had been so badly handled completely justified? 

The cause of our disappointments is in the refusal to make timely concessions, and 
it will end by ruining us completely. 

Napoleon had had the most splendid chances to divide his opponents. Hie Dutch 
- or let me say all good Europeans - may well be glad that he neglected to use 
them, and that Mettemich almost in spite of himself became the hero of Europe’s 
liberation. But the whole story brings out Napoleon’s uncontrollable pnde, 
his gambling propensities, his complete indifference to human life, his blind- 
ness to moral factors such as the national ferment in the subjugated territories 
and the exhaustion of France. 

This is not to suggest that the good European ought to close his eyes to the 
selfishness of the powers who finally encompassed Napoleon’s fall. The Europe 
they resurrected or built anew was no perfect construction, and all of them strove, 
some with more success than others, to realize their own ambitions in the field 
of power politics, and thus - in some cases more than in others - brought about 
fresh injustice, fresh oppression. That is a point of view which Sorel is very 
ready to bring into prominence . 1 It is as if land-hunger and despotism appeared 
primarily on the coalition side, so bitterly does he harp on Alexander’s unlimited 
greed for power, the maritime and colonial imperialism of the British, the avidity 

i. Thus he un derlines, for example, in the bitter letter in which Louis XVIII pro- 
tested from exile against the imperial coronation, the phrase: ‘J am a s on n’opposa le 
droit au crime ... la Legitimite k la Revolution’. And he adds on his own account: 
‘Rendre la Pologne aux Polonais, restaurer la republique a Verme, restituer les Legations 
au pape, les dvSches et abbayes d’Allemagne aux princes ecclesiastiques etaient des 
pensees qui n’entraient dans Fespnt ni du tsar, restaurateur de la justice, ni des augustes 
assesseurs de son tribunal, le roi de Prusse et l’empereur d’Autnche.’ vi, 409. 



and the hatred of France shown by the Prussians, and the immovable conser- 
vatism of Austria, which was again going to stifle Italy and a large part of Ger- 
many. In all such comments there is some truth. What is unacceptable is that 
they should be brought forward as part of a system of apology in which, at the 
same time, the fact that the entire pubhc opinion of contemporary Europe 
groaned under Napoleonic oppression and was weary of the Emperor’s eternal 
restlessness is passed over. 

This is Sorel’s conclusion concerning the abortive negotiations. 

So the war began again, the war without end which had been going on ever since 
1792, and it began again for the same reasons which had caused its twenty years’ 
duration and its extension into the farthest comers of Europe . . . What the coalition 
wants is the destruction of the grand empire, the overthrow of the French supremacy, 
the repulsion of France within her old frontiers. What Napoleon is m reality 
defending on the Elbe, what he is inevitably bound to lose in case of his being 
beaten back, are those bndgeheads, those advance posts, which the Comite de saint 
public and the Directorate had marked on the map, and winch were essential for 
the conquest and for the retention of the natural frontiers. 

How is it possible? is Driault’s comment on tills passage. 1 The reasoning is 
indeed such as to make one rub one’s eyes. Driault queries ‘the old frontiers’, 
and it will have been noticed how far even now the demands of the allies fell 
short of them. As Caulaincourt and others had warned Napoleon, it was only 
owing to the war that the ‘natural frontiers’ were brought into question. I am 
not going to discuss the rest of Sorel’s book, but Driault points out that even 
in 1814, had Napoleon only been content with what was attainable, there were 
still possibilities of dividing the allies and saving the ‘natural frontiers*. But 
Sorel passes over these possibilities too, because they do not fit into his thesis. 


The criticism of professional historians has not been able to deprive Sorel’s 
arguments of their authority. Let me repeat that they are stimulating to the 
historical imagination and must be considered as an enrichment of Napoleonic 
literature. They cry out for criticism, however, and a good deal must be rejected. 
Yet they have been swallowed whole in numbers of French and even non-French 
books. 2 Many thousands of readers have met them, a generation later, in Jacques 

1. Revue d’histoire modems et contemporaine, vm, 194. 

2. As example of the latter I would only take Max Lenz, Napoleon, in the illustrated 
Monographien zur Weltgeschichte by Velhagen and Klasing. This book, which appeared in 
1908, and from which many Dutchmen have derived their idea of Napoleon, is entirely 
influenced by Sorel. In his introduction he praises Sorel and Vandal for their ‘Ruhe des 
Orteils and at the same time appeals to Ranke and his ‘ Unbefangenheit der Betrachtung’ 
(see p. 219 above) to find a patron for the idea that ‘the historical world was no day in 



Bainville’s biography of Napoleon, of which. I shall shortly have something to 
s ^* 

There is something in this whole trend of reasoning which charms French 
chauvinism. Hie disaster of 1814-15, the loss of the Rhineland and of Belgium, 
have been sore pomts for a century or more. Talk of the bad faith of the allies, 
of their covetousness, of Prussian hate, of British selfishness, has been indulged 
in for its alleviating effect. And I need not repeat that the liberators of Europe 
did have other motives apart from those given in the Kalisch manifesto. All these 
are reasons why the Napoleonic legend has been able to strike such profound 
roots in French thought. 

It is true that the Frenchman can oppose Napoleon on that very ground of the 
‘natural frontiers’. I fit is accepted that Europe could easily have been reconciled 
to those French acquisitions, the conclusion follows that it was only the excessive 
policy of Napoleon which irritated European opinion, and in the end brought 
about the loss of the ‘natural frontiers’. That is more or less how Bignon, Thiers, 
and Bourgeois reasoned, as we have seen ; Driault and Georges Lefebvre will 
be found to say the same. This school, therefore, is not less convinced of the 
plausibility of the annexation of the Rhineland, Belgium, and North Brabant. A 
careful reading of Sorel leads one on the contrary to ask oneself whether he was 
not exceptionally reasonable and moderate in this respect. 

If one follows his argument - that the Rhine frontier, including both German 
and Dutch territories, was bound to bring in both Britain and Germany, that tills 
policy could therefore only be carried out by establishing a zone of dependent 
states through new conquests, which would indeed involve a life and death 
struggle with Europe, an endless series of wars, and thus would not permit of a 
peaceful republic but would demand the establishment of an empire on Roman 
lines - if one takes in all this, then the Convention decree concerning the ‘natural 
frontiers’ cannot but appear extravagant, as a measure completely outside 
European realities. It may be possible thus to exonerate Napoleon, who was 
saddled with this policy from the beginning, but the whole period becomes 
stamped with the character of a tremendous effort doomed beforehand to failure ; 
however grandiose, it becomes a paroxysm of energy, showing all the tendencies 
of the normal French expansionism in an exaggerated form, and incapable of 

the hands of the Titan, whose actions must be interpreted in the light of French and 
European history and the connexion of centuries \ And who would not assent to this? 
But the critical point from which Lenz deduces his argument is that in 1803 it was not 
Napoleon but Britain which wanted war, and he decides all other problems in accordance 
with this. He hims elf regards his view as a victory of objectivity over the hate-ridden 
tendentiousness of German nationalists such as Treitschke and von SybeL Much might 
he said about this. 



achieving anything more than that amazing spectacle . 1 But is it perhaps Sorel’s 
intention in his great work to preach the wisdom of remaining within the old 
and more modest frontiers, and to warn his public that a renewed struggle for 
the Rhine would once more lead to nothing else than a heroic but in the end fatal 
clash with Europe ? 2 

As a rule, it must be admitted, he makes quite a different impression. An explicit 
affirmation of France’s right to the ‘natural frontiers’ will not, it is true, be 
found in his work. The whole idea of right in international relationships left 
him too sceptical for that. But he does repeatedly counter charges by the other 
European states against France’s insatiable expansionism by pointing to their 
own practice. It is particularly the partitioning of Poland of which Russia, 
Prussia, and Austria had been making themselves guilty that he uses against 
them. The French governments were already in the habit of doing this, and 
not only with the idea of silencing criticism on moral grounds; they considered 
that the territorial expansion of the three Eastern Powers gave them a title to 
compensation. Now Sorel shows that this idea of compensation was part of the 
current European conception of public law, and considers that expansion to the 
Rhine was in no sense an exaggerated claim for the avoidance of a disturbance 
of the balance. He never mentions the fact that national differences made the 
annexation of the Rhineland and of Flanders unsuitable. In fact the principle of 
nationality leaves him cold. 

No, Sorel did not erect his system into a warning against the policy of the 
‘natural frontiers’ on account of its train of fatal consequences. Rather does it 
serve him constantly to identify himself with Napoleon. While he refers through- 
out to ‘Europe’s’ envy and ‘Europe’s’ desire to divide France, to throw her into 
confusion, to weaken her, he defends or extenuates everything done by Napoleon, 
since he was merely following the direction already laid down for France. 

He is thus able to write as if Napoleon, who could not give up the smallest 
fragment of one of his conquests without bringing everything, including the 
early Republican acquisitions, into danger, was justified in his obstinate refusal 

1. The final judgement at the end of Volume vm is indeed only an extension of this 

2. The clearest example I have noted of Sorel’s dislike of the Natural Frontier policy 
occurs towards the end of Volume iv, p. 477, that is to say, before he treated, after a 
pause of ten years, the period of the Directorate and Napoleon. ‘ Only the victories of 
Bonaparte,’ he says there, ‘made the realization of the conception of the natural frontiers 
possible’ (let me remark in passing that this is a curious way of expressing it; the natural 
frontiers had been reached before the victories; Sorel means that the victories were 
necessary to consolidate them) ‘and by speeding up the course of events, his policy 
brought to light the fundamental error of the system and made the inevitable collapse 
more disastrous.’ 



to accept what were on the face of it very fair peace proposals, and in his %var to 
the death ’. 1 Indeed, his defence of Napoleon and his condemnation of men like 
Talleyrand and Caulaincourt create the impression that far from uttering a 
warning against a policy of conquest, he found it quite in order for a great country 
to turn the whole of Europe upside down for the sake of what it regarded as 
its ‘natural frontiers’. He seems to think that France, in order to keep Belgium 
and the Rhineland in her power, had a right to Holland and Germany and Italy, 
that she was free to liberate Poland or barter it away again as circumstances 
dictated, and to put Spain under tutelage. Napoleon actually did reason thus, 
when he foimd it useful to reason, and if another line of argument (for he had 
several) did not happen to suit him better. But to find an echo a century later in 
the works of a scholar, and one of so remarkable a mind as Sorel, remains some- 
what surprising. 

Let me conclude on ground which is more specifically historical. Driault 
thought Sorel’s portrait of Napoleon was out of drawing, and he protested 
not so much against the whitewashing as against the belittling of the figure. 
That powerful personality - which had set its mark on Europe, whose own out- 
look and dynamic will shaped the destiny and the institutions of the western 
hemisphere - transformed into the slave of Destiny, with all its endeavours 
determined by the previous policy of the kings and of the Comite de salut public l 
Anyone putting the problem like this, and considering that insufficient justice 
is done to Napoleon’s greatness, shows that he is himself possessed by a par- 
ticular conception. Here is matter for debate, which many will be inclined to 
decide by the most general md a priori notions about the free will of the individual 
or about the compelling power of impersonal forces and tendencies in history. 
I have deemed it sufficient to treat the problem historically, and to show how 
much can be advanced against Sorel’s system from this point of view, and to 
what a distortion of the facts it led him. 

I. *H fallait, comme en 1795, comme en 1798, comme en 1800, comme en 1805, 1806, 
1809, choisir entre une lutte l mort et le retour pur et simple de la France a ses anciennes 
limites. C’est du Grand Empire que Ton pretend Pexproprier d’abord, puis de 1 ’Empire 
mSme et des conquetes de la Republique.’ vii, 118. 

Edouard Driault 


Among the writers I have discussed, only a small minority are professional 
historians, products of the University and teachers under its auspices. Apart from 
Bourgeois, Driault is the most important of that description. The work by 
which he first made Ins name was a history of the Eastern Question covering 
several centuries. He followed this with a school textbook. In 1903 he wrote 
the section dealing with 1789-1815, Evolution et Empire , in the Corns complet 
d'histoire edited by Gabriel Monod. He was then professeur agrege d’histoire . . . 
au Lycie de Versailles. It is worth while glancing at this book, which as far as 
Napoleon is concerned belongs unmistakably to the democratic hostile school. 

There is, for example, the emphasis placed on the loss of freedom which the 
coup d’ltat of Brumaire implied for the French people. After a description of the 
constitution of Year VIII, there follows the statement that ‘France of the ancien 
regime had possessed more liberties’. Nor is a reminder lacking of how little 
the plebiscite to which the constitution was submitted had in common with a 
genuine consultation of the people. The constitution had already been put into 
operation. Voting was by writing and public . . . The writer has no more respect 
for the ‘organic’ laws which the First Consul introduced. Bonaparte, it is true, 
respected the great social achievements of the Revolution, but in every way he 
did away with liberty, 

under the pretext of saving France from anarchy and ‘ of ending the Revolution*. 

his administrative law killed practically all local freedom : the municipalities 
became ‘minors’; the State exercised administrative guardianship over them. 

Towards the end Driault writes that the Emperor’s renown cost France more 
than it brought her, and that in a certain sense she was the victim of the great role 
he made her play. ‘ Caesarism only displayed its power and its glory by exhausting 
the country’s resources.’ That is what the scholars at republican colleges must 
be made to realize. The horrors of conscription, of the rounding-up of abscond- 
ing conscripts (the refractaires) are told, as iso the suppression of all representa- 
tive bodies (that of the Tribunate after Tilsit), of all free expression of opinion 
(the censorship), the oppression of the Catholic Church. The passage leads up 
to a quotation from the memoirs of Mme de Remusat (characteristic choice!): 



‘Tli e egoist Napoleon, tliinjdng of nothing save himself, killed the Empire.* 

Dissatisfaction in Italy, ferment in Germany, war in Spain 

The opinions of Driault in 1903 would not, however, be fully known, if no 
account were taken of his treatment of the events of 1813 and 1814. He had then 
apparently not yet investigated the negotiations of Prague independently, and 
he put all the blame for the failure on the bad faith of Mettemich (a very different 
story, therefore, from that [see p. 267] told in 1907). But his indignation only 
reaches its height when he comes to describe the manifesto of 1 December 
1813 and the congress of Chatillon in February and March 1814. The action of 
the allies in holding up Napoleon to the French people as the man responsible 
for the withdrawal of their offer of a peace leaving the ‘natural frontiers’ intact 
he regards as rank hypocrisy, and when, having reached French soil, they reduce 
their proposals to the frontiers of 1792, he like Houssaye simply sees Napoleon 
as the hero defending France’s holy right to the Rhine frontier and to Belgium 
with the courage of despair, and he glories in the fact that the French people 
did not back Talleyrand in his ‘treachery’. Here the non-French reader is struck 
by the crass contradiction with the writer’s other views. I draw attention to it 
because we can perhaps find the explanation here of the change which Driault’s 
appreciation of the whole figure of Napoleon was to undergo, which would 
otherwise remain a psychological puzzle. But first let us turn to his original 
contributions, prior to the change. 


The books from which we can obtain data consist in the first place of two mono- 
graphs dated 1904 and 1906, entitled respectively La po litique orientate de NapoUon 
1 806-08 and Napoleon en Italic 1800-1 2. What strikes one in both is that the writer 
used them to develop theories about the policy of Napoleon in general, about the 
aims that were shaping in his mind. It is thus not to be wondered at that Driault 
next embarked on a great work entitled Napolion et V Europe, which appeared 
between the years 1910 and 1927, in five volumes. It is this work that has given 
him his important place in Napoleonic historiography. Nevertheless, in setting 
forth his ideas I shall chiefly use the two earlier monographs and one or two 
articles, and of the larger work I shall quote only from the earlier volumes. The 
reason for this will appear in the course of my survey. 

We have already seen how forcefully and how positively Driault let himself 
be heard in the debate on Sorel’s theories. He rejected the conception of Napoleon 
as driven by the impersonal forces of the history of France and of Europe; 
Napoleon exercised his own personal influence on the course of history. Sorel’s 
theory distorts and belittles him. It does so not only by reason of its historical 



fatalism, which subordinates personality to the course of events, but also, and 
even chiefly, because of the interpretation given of tills compelling development 
itself: that it was all done solely for the sake of the retention and security of the 
‘natural frontiers’ already achieved, that Napoleon did nothing more than con- 
tinue the work of the Comite de salut public and of the Directorate, which for 
their part continued the work of the monarchy. Driault will have none of tins. 
Thus far he is in agreement with Masson and Bourgeois, who likewise discover 
a strong new personal factor in Napoleon’s policy by which French history was 
forced from its normal traditional paths. 1 But Driault is satisfied neither by the 
explanation that Napoleon’s family feeling (first for his brothers and then for 
his son) was the true motivating force, nor by the idea that his eastern dream was 
behind everything. 

As for Napoleon having his secret, as Bourgeois called it, that to Driault is 
beyond question. Thus he feels urged to offer another hypothesis. Napoleon 
had an aim. His clear mind could not remain satisfied with a vague longing for 
world domination. There must have been something more precise, something 
that can be defined and described. 2 The uncertainty results only from the fact 
that Napoleon was indeed a secretive person. He gave no one his confidence, he 
hid his inmost mind. His correspondence is certainly an invaluable source, but 

it is not always frank. He does not display all his ambitions, he never admits 
himself to have been wrong. He throws on his enemies, particularly England, the 
responsibility for the long wars by which he exhausted France. It appears as though 
he was always in a lawful state of self-defence, and that nobody possessed the virtue 
of moderation to the extent that he did. It is not incumbent on anybody to take 
him at his word. 1 

As, I would add, Arthur-Levy and Sorel believed him, in his correspondence 
and even in the utterances from St Helena. 

Britain, which Napoleon so much likes to bring up as an excuse, is important 
in Sorel’s presentation not only for that reason but also because, as the most 
obstinate fighter for the independence of the Low Countries, it did seem to bear 
out the theory of the outstanding importance of the natural frontiers. Vandal, 
as we have seen (p. 217 f£), was even more positive in his view of Britain as the 
enemy, never for one moment out of Napoleon’s thoughts. Without mention- 
ing him, Driault joins issue with a British historian, Seeley. This writer, endowed 

1. I follow here the interesting survey of Muret in the Revue cThistoire moderns et 
contemporaine, xvm (1913), ‘Une nouvelle conception de la politique etrangere de 
Napoleon’ (pp. 177-200, 353-80), written after the appearance of the second volume of 
Dri ault’s Napoleon et VEurope. 

2. La politique orientate de Napoleon , p. 375. 

3. Napoleon en Italic, p. 1. 



with vision and attracted by great subjects, 1 wrote a striking biography of Napo- 
leon in which he pointed to the subjection of Britain as the real aim of Napo- 
leonic policy ; and this, it should be added, chiefly for the purpose of obtaining 
room for economic and colonial expansion. 

"What? [Driault exclaims] When he made himself King of Italy, it was to strike at 
England? When he destroyed the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, 
when he founded the Confederation of the Rhine, when he resuscitated Poland, 
when he added the Illyrian provinces to his empire, when he set out for Moscow, 
it was to strike at England? That is indeed hard to believe. 

True - he found Britain constantly in his way, she resisted him, she fought him, 
and finally brought him down. 

England was his obstacle, but not his aim. If he had only wished to beat down 
England, why did he not attack her directly? Had he spent at sea one tenth of the 
effort which he undertook for the conquest of Europe, he would have stood a 
better chance of settling accounts with his everlastmg enemy. But on the contrary, 
if he was defeated by England, it was because he gave no sufficient attention to her, 
because he turned his back on her most of the time, digging himself in in the east. 3 

This view of Britain the enemy as a slogan with which to deceive, this refer- 
ence to the east, are both reminiscent of Bourgeois. And indeed Driault admits 
that much of the latter’s explanation is attractive, and that it has shown him his 
direction a good part of the way. But it is too limited, too one-sided. In particular, 
he cannot agree with the reading of Tilsit which postulates Napoleon’s willing- 
ness to share the Turkish empire with Alexander. On the contrary, he used 
Tilsit to keep the Tsar’s attention occupied, and at the right moment to lay 
hands on the entire inheritance of the Sultan. But the chief difference is that 
Driault is unable to explain everything by the hypothesis of eastern ambitions 
as Bourgeois does. What have these to do with the Confederation of the Rhine, 
or with the annexation of Spain and Portugal, or with the crushing of Prussia? 
‘Prussia certainly did not bar Napoleon’s way to the east.’s 

It was not the ‘ natural frontiers ’, then, not Britain, not - or not only - the east. 
Nor was it dynastic feeling. In a review of Masson, Driault wrote: ‘One must 
not attach greater importance to that intimate family history of Napoleon’s 
iban it deserves.’ Napoleon did not allow his policy to be decided by his rela- 
tives, he used them for his policy: 

1. His best known work is still, perhaps, The Expansion of England. 

2. La politique orientate de Napoleon , p. 376. 

3. La politique orientate de Napoleon , p. 377; cf. Bourgeois on this subject, p. 223 above. 

28 r 


He gave them such thrones as suited him, took them back at Ills pleasure, and hardly 
allowed the incessant demands of that msatiable band to trouble lum. 

What then? 

Napoleon, says Driault, ‘was a Roman Emperor’. 1 2 3 Or rather, he became one, 
he wanted to be one. His command in Italy - Driault takes this idea gratefully 
from Sorel - was his preparation for the Imperial office, as the campaigns in 
Gaul had been for Caesar. But at first the forms and tradition of Emperorship 
which gave shape to his policy were those of Charlemagne. 

One of the most remarkable traits of Napoleon Bonaparte’s mind was his 
instinctive but eminently picturesque feeling for the scenery of the past and for the 
historical significance of his own times and career. He carefully measured the 
symbolic importance of the imperial title, with one bold leap of the imagmation he 
lifted himself up to Charlemagne, to Rome itself, and was immediately at home in 
that apparently archaic role: there was in his behaviour no trace of the upstart. 3 

Charlemagne : tills, then, was for the time being to be the figure he wished to 
embody, Even before the coronation in Notre Dame, this was made clear during 
a visit to Aix-la-Chapelle, the ancient capital of the Frankish Emperor. There, 
in September 1804, he received the new Austrian ambassador in solemn state: 
‘That already suggested the abdication of the head of the Holy Roman Empire 
making room for the new Emperor of the West.’ Indeed Francis II was not to 
carry that title much longer. He was to lay it down in 1806, after the territorial 
reorganization of Germany. It was from Mayence - surely there was irony m 
the choice of the ecclesiastical capital of the moribund Empire - that Napoleon 
sent Ills congratulations on the new title of Emperor of Austria, which Francis 
had taken beforehand. After Aix-la-Chapelle and Paris, Milan. For Charle- 
magne, too, the iron crown of Lombardy had been the necessary completion 
to the Imperial crown which the Pope had placed on his head. As in Notre Dame, 
Napoleon in Milan Cathedral himself placed the crown on his head. In his title, 
King of Italy, claims to the whole peninsula were implicit. 

But to his contemporaries, the imperial title was eloquent enough. 

There could be only one Emperor really, the Emperor was the sovereign, the sole 
master of the otherprinces. That was the classic tradition, handed down through the 
centuries from the Roman Emperors. 3 

1. Napoleon en Italie, p. 30. 

2. Napoleon et Italie, p. 294. 

3. La politique orientate He Napoleon , p. 394. 



Tliis imperial title, die imperial character of Napoleon’s power - therein is 
contained the explanation of the new coalition winch was formed against him, 
and which he broke up at Austerhtz. 1 But Austerlitz and Jena extended reality 
beyond the Charlemagne dream. Italy and Germany, with France, now formed 
the basis of a truly imperial and supra-national power. In all directions he sent 
out kings of his blood, to govern the conquered peoples and to assure to the 
imperial idea as many firm supports. Other vassal kings he bound to himself by 
marriage. The Holy Roman Empire whose shade he had so recently annihilated 
lived again, with its centre of gravity in France. 

But is it not obvious that there could be no arrest at this juncture? Napoleon 
desired, and he had been aware of his desire at an early stage, the dominion over 
the Mediterranean. That sufficed to break through the form of the western 
Empire. Automatically the idea grew and became a resurrected Roman Empire 
before the split, when it included both east and west. The system of vassal states 
had to give way before the system of unity. In 1806 Napoleon had written to 
the Pope saying that he was Emperor of Rome (see p. 103), but in 1809 he went 
further and annexed Rome. The expectation and soon the birth of an heir 
strengthened this tradition. And then not only Rome, but Constantinople! 
The Holy Roman Empire of the German nation had so easily been shattered 
with a couple of sword thrusts ; could the tottering Ottoman Empire give more 
trouble? Rather the opposite. ‘Napoleon, the successor of Charlemagne, can 
also be the successor of Constantine. Only then would he in truth be Emperor.’* 

That the imperial idea in its full classical import became for Napoleon a 
comp ellin g law of life - nothing could be more natural, in Driault’s view. 

By his birth, by his origins, by all the characteristics of his genius, penetrated with 
the feeling for order, with the passion for unity, he was in truth a Roman. And that 
inclination was strengthened by his circumstances. The generation to which he 
belonged was permeated with the classical spirit. It applied it in everything, in 
literature, in art, in politics, in the very forms of the language. Palaces, columns, 
triumphal arches were built after the Roman fashion. From the Romans were 
taken the noblest motifs in sculpture and in painting; the Sabines were pictured, 
the oath of the Horatii. In his painting of the imperial consecration David hid the 
Gothic forms of Notre Dame behind Classic colonnades and tapestries. The terms 
of Tribunate, Senate, Consuls, were revised; a new Rome was built on the ruins 
of the Revolution. Follow that line, and it leads to Imperial Rome. The Consulate 
was succeeded by the Empire, and to the Romans the Empire meant unity of power 
secured by the military prestige of the eagles. The Imperator, that was the conqueror 
mounted on the Capitol, the top of the* world. Napoleon clasped the imperial 
diadem round his temples, and in his brain was bom the ambition to undertake 

1. Napoleon en Italie , p. 304; see p. 255 fF. above. 

2. Lapolttiqiie orientate de Napoleon , p. 394. 



the complete imperial function. With his clear-cut profile, his obstinate chin, his 
haughty look, his smooth-shaven face, and hair cut short, he was the very image 
of an Emperor. He wanted to be the Emperor. 

And in so far as it was possible in modem times, Driault continues, he actually 
did become the Emperor. At Austerlitz he defeated the two other Emperors. 

He overthrew the eight-centuries-old Holy Roman Empire, and took possession of 
his inheritance. He conquered Italy, and like Charlemagne came to own the iron 
crown of the Lombard kings. For a time he spared the Pope. Like Charlemagne, he 
was already extending his empire as far as the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea. He 
conquered Germany, and became the patron of the Confederation of the Rhine, 
whose frontiers he brought down to the Elbe. He crushed Prussia, which had dared 
to oppose his imperial destiny. He restored Poland, under the name of Grand 
duchy of Warsaw, and made it into a military frontier of his empire: had not the 
ancient Western Empire possessed marches on the confines of the barbaric world? 
He did not call the Polish nation into being again: he took no notice of the rights 
of the nationalities, which he wanted to pound to pieces in an imperial unity. He 
stood apart horn his period: that is why he himself was bound in the end to be 

Being a Roman Emperor, he wanted to rule over the Mediterranean, which had 
once been a Roman lake . . . For that reason he coveted the East. Aix-Ia-Chapelle 
he had; Constantinople he wanted to have. Only then would he be the E m peror, 
and not simply an emperor. At the same time, to crown his ambition, he coveted 
Rome, which he took. From then on he surpassed Charlemagne, who had left the 
Pope at Rome. He dispossessed the Pope, he had the papal archives earned to 
Paris. In the days of Constantine the Pope was a humble servant of the Emperor, 
by whom he used to be confirmed as such, so that he could not encroach with his 
claims on the majestic unity of the Empire . . . His son, the King of Rome, was an 
Emperor’s son, and the grandson of an Emperor. 

Permeated with those ideas taken from antiquity but brilliantly rejuvenated in 
his mind, he did nothing directly against England. England had no place wit hin the 
sphere of imperial policy. In that aspect he stood apart from his period and was 
doomed to defeat. 

How could he [Driault concludes, thus coming back to the subject of the book in 
which these reflections are to be found] how could he have shared the Ottoman 
Empire with Russia? The Ottoman Empire was his, he had staked it for his domain : 
for it was the Eastern Empire. How could he have established a sincere and durable 
alliance with the Tsar, who also wanted to be the Emperor of the East? 1 

On the contrary, he was obliged to oppose this ambition. That message to the 
Senate in the spring of 1807, sent from east Prussia, when the war in Germany 
had enticed him ever further east against the Slav hordes, before Tilsit; that 
message in which he warned the French against the disasters which would arise 

1. La politique orientale de Napoleon, p. 396. 



from the barbarian Russians 5 domination of Constantinople - it will be remem- 
bered perhaps that Bourgeois (see p. 224) regarded it simply as a piece of propa- 
ganda inspired by an awkward situation, but for Driault it enshrines Napoleon’s 
most profound convictions. 1 * Thus, after attempts to subjugate Spain properly, 
after having forced Austria into his system, the great undertaking at the end 
becomes a real culminating point. All the peoples of Europe, jumbled together 
for a moment in the Empire, were led by him, in order to throw Russia back 
into Asia. 

It had been the task of the Roman Emperors to control the barbarians, to protect 
civilization under the laws of a single authority orgamzed on a grand scale. Once 
he had beaten Russia, he could settle matters in the eastern world once and for all. . . . 

In practice this meant a dynamic foreign policy which turned out to be a great 
misfortune for France, and Driault is not blind to the fact. In 1805-6, an alliance 
with Prussia was within Napoleon’s reach, if only he would moderate his German 
policy and return to the tradition of remaining entrenched behind the ‘natural 
frontiers’ and seeking beyond them nothing save influence. 3 Tilsit might have 
been a real peace with Russia, had Napoleon been prepared to open for Alexander 
the way to the east, as the Tsar had expected, and as he had in fact been promised. 
In that case no one could have taken away from Napoleon Italy or Spain or the 
Confederation of the Rhine. But 

he was less concerned to safeguard France’s security behind her natural frontiers 
than to conquer the Empire for himself. 

Indeed, Driault remarks, 3 the whole notion of alliance was alien to the imperial 
idea. The Emperor could not share, the Emperor could not recognize conditions, 
the Emperor scorned the basis of equality, the only basis on which alhance can 
exist. He knew only vassals, he desired only obedience, he took all advantages 
for himself. 

But, Driault pronounces, the last word should not be with the Frenchman, 
resentfully considering the loss of the Rhineland and of Belgium as a result of 
this over-ambitious policy, or impatient at the stifling centralization which 
Napoleon’s institutions fastened on his people for so long. He should also have 
an eye for the greatness of the work done in Europe. However transitory may 
have been the structure of the Napoleonic empire, its influence makes it one of 

1. NapoUon m Italle, p. 674. 2. Napoleon et V Europe, 11, 445 £ 

3. op. dt. 1, 471; II, 448. 



the most fruitful, one of the most profound forces in world history. Napoleon 
- and tins it is which constitutes his greatness - was 

often unintentionally the agent of the Revolution. On entering upon the First 
Consulship, he declared the Revolution to be at an end. As regards France that was 
certainly so, but for Europe it had only just begun. Napoleon’s victories were 
victories for the Revolution. 

We have already met with this view (see p. 37 ff.) in Mignet, who could see 
in Napoleon’s work in France nothing but reaction, but who would not deny 
him praise as the propagator of the principles of 1789 in Europe. Driault quotes 
a passage, dated about 1840, from the sociahst philosopher Pierre Leroux - a 
man so little inclined to autocracy that after the coup d’etat of Louis Napoleon 
in 1851 he was obliged to seek refuge in England: 

The great events of the Empire and of the march of humanity would become 
totally unintelligible if one were to see in Napoleon nothing but a fascinating 
despot or an ostentatious conqueror, and tried to put it all down to his personal 
ambition and superhuman pride — Wherever he ruled or placed his rulers, the 
Inquisition, feudal rights, all exclusive privileges were abolished, the number of 
monasteries was reduced, customs barriers between provinces thrown down . . . 
Viewed in that light, it was he, and he alone, who carried through the Revolution. 
Feudalism, priest rule, barriers isolating the nations, social prejudices which divided 
humanity into castes, all sorts of inequalities - he took up his sword to cut those 
Gordian knots of mankind. At every step forward that he made, his Code smoothed 
out everything in his rear. That Code was the conqueror’s gospel: his victories 
expanded its domain, and it presented him with armies. 1 

Vandal, the conservative Vandal, whose attitude to the principles of 1789 
was indifferent if not downright hostile, would certainly have marked this 
eloquent passage with a good many queries. Yet he too claims for Napoleon the 
honour of having guided the peoples of Europe along new paths; there is no 
doubt that he was thinking not so much of the principle of equality and its 
blessings as of the growing national consciousness of the oppressed. It will be 
remembered (see p. 229) that Masson too considered that the fall of Napoleon 
in 1815 was the fall of the ‘liberator’ not only of France but of ‘the nations* as 
well. In the introduction to his Napoleon et Alexander Ier, Vandal puts it as 

It was Ms dream to be Charlemagne. He wanted to bring unity to the scattered 
states of the west, and, seizing the peoples and snatching them away from their 
memories and traditions, to subject them to an authority which rejuvenated them 
for all that it was imposed, he tried to impel them violently on the course of their 
future destinies. 

1. cf. Quack, De Sotialisten, hi, 333. 



The idea is almost a commonplace in French historiography. There is for 
example the striking passage from Sorel which I quoted above (p. 260 f£) about 
the stirring up of the European soil for a new harvest, a passage winch Dnault 
•was eager to quote. 

Thus the idea was by no means new when Driault took it up, neither in the 
form in which Napoleon was regarded as being the propagator of the social 
reforms of the Revolution, nor in that in which Napoleon was seen as the lib- 
erator, in the name of the Revolution, of the nationalities; indeed it is part of 
the inheritance of St Helena. But in the importance Dnault attached to it hi his 
presentation as a whole there was an element of novelty. Vandal, after the passage 
just quoted, says that these conceptions do not spring spontaneously from 
Napoleon’s mind: 

They only appeared there, so to speak, as reflexes, occasioned by the necessities of 
his struggle against England 

Sorel, who looks for the source of Napoleon’s strength in the impetus of the 
Revolution, certainly relates the propagation of Revolutionary principles more 
closely and more organically to his policy. His emphasis, however, falls so much 
on the purpose of protecting the ‘natural frontiers’ that he cannot do justice to 
the other idea - no more than Masson, who was fundamentally too narrow and 
too exclusively the French nationalist. Now this is what Driault set out to do, 
and his main thesis gave him the necessary latitude. For Charlemagne and the 
Roman Emperors had something to carry out; they too had a European task. 

Towards the close of antiquity [writes Driault 1 ] the Roman Empire gave to the 
world the political unity needed for the propagation of those principles of moral and 
religious unity which classic philosophy had been slowly maturing and which were 
now represented by Christianity. At the close of what we call the ancien regime, the 
Emperor Napoleon gave for a while to the historical world the unity needed for the 
propagation of those principles of a political and social revolution which had been 
announced by eighteenth-century philosophy and which have not ceased ever 
since to change the face of Europe. There you have the whole of the histone 
significance of the Emperor’s role, and it suffices for his greatness. He was the 
prophet of the new age. 

One’s immediate reaction to this passage is to say that the writer has greatly 
overrated the significance of the transition from ancien regime to modem times, 
but it becomes historically more questionable when he attributes this conception 
to Napoleon himself and uses it to measure the stature of the statesman. 

Having described how the First Consul plunged France into the renewed war 
with Britain, how he aroused the ancient hatred for Britain, and with it the old 

1. La politique orientate de Napoleon, p. 399. 



ambition, and fighting spirit necessary to defeat Britain in Europe and help hir^ 
to build the Gallic Empire, Driault asks whether we have on that account to 
condemn Bonaparte. 1 ‘History/ he answers, ‘is not ethics; the task of under- 
standing and portraying him already demands quite enough of us/ Indeed, 
Napoleon could not do anything else : 

He was victory itself, the genius of war . . , And above all, after the Convention 
and the Directorate he had to follow another career, which they had indicated to 
ham. For a secret instinct called him, as it did France herself at that time, to represent 
the Revolution in all its power of expansion, as Charlemagne had represented 
Christianity at the moment when it was definitely spread over the Continent of 

The Revolution produced Napoleon. With its immeasurable force of destruc- 
tion, he was able to overthrow the whole of Europe so that there might be room for 
new political and social reforms. His labours were favoured by the weakness and 
decrepitude of the ancien regime , as well as by the youthful energy of the revolution- 
ary spirit . . . What a progress had been made since Brumaire ! Then France was 
still threatened in her natural frontiers . . . Now the old thrones have to think of 
their own defence; the old Europe feels death approaching. It is the Revolution in 
the service of the conqueror, the conqueror in the service of the Revolution. 
Napoleonic conquest is the Revolution on the march: the Revolution is aggressive 
by nature. 

What was it he did? 3 

He crushed the kings. In particular did he break down the crumbling edifice of the 
Holy Roman Empire, he freed the peoples from old despotisms, he awakened 
nationalities which had been slumbering for centuries. ‘The whole of Poland 
mounted on horseback’ and took service in the Grande Arnde. Illyria . . . Servia . . . 
but above all Italy ... It is owing to Napoleon that Italy began to be something 
more than a geographical expression. No other European nation is so much in his 
debt . . . Wherever he passed, the marks of his activity can be shown. In Spain he 
destroyed the Inquisition, and called into being the liberal party who were at first 
called the Josephinos and who have never ceased to labour for the resuscitation of the 
country. Even in Russia, who can tell if Year XII [1804] has not contributed to the 
rise of that great liberal party which is so actively imdermining autocracy? [It 
should be borne in mind that this was written in 1906, when the first Duma was in 
session in St Petersburg.] In all the countries over which Napoleon has reigned, 
however briefly, new institutions based on the equality of classes and on liberty of 
conscience initiated that revolutionary transformation which shook the entire 
nineteenth century. 

He was as it were the prophet of the new nationalities . - . How great would he 

1. Napoleon et VEurope, 1 (La politique exterieure du Premier Cotisut), p. 473, 

2. The passage is from Napoleon en Jtalie t pp. 667-70. 



have been, if he had kept on serving the Revolution instead of making use of it for 
Ins own ends, if he had omitted to make of liberty a means to power, if after 
rousing the Italians and his other peoples to independence he had not kept them 
under the yoke, if he had not violated his promises. But has any conqueror in 
history ever been known to let go of his conquest? He was never willing to do 
anything in order to free the nations over which he ruled . . . He was afraid, and 
certainly not without reason, to see them rise agamst hnn. He tried to melt Europe 
down in the great revolutionary unity which was the grand empire. 

No doubt he could find ground for the reassurance of his conscience. Perhaps he 
looked upon the work of his hands as ‘providential*. At least he could sincerely 
believe that the countries he had conquered would, if left to themselves, immedi- 
ately revert to the forces of the past. The whole of Europe had not gone through 
the philosophic education which had been the lot of France, and even in that 
exceptionally developed France it was possible after him for the Restoration to try 
and restore the ancien regime. He could well believe that he alone had the strength 
needed to establish and to maintain everywhere the Revolution, and that his 
retreat would be the signal for the reaction. It was by the aggressive nature of revolu- 
tionary propaganda rather than the need for lawful self-defence against the coalition 
of the kings that he was dragged into his incessant wars. And as a matter of fact 
these terms are not mutually exclusive. 

So he was in a state of lawful self-defence after all? 


Driault’s views concerning the general tendencies of Napoleonic policy are, as 
far as this study is concerned, the most important part of Ins work, but they are 
also the most open to criticism. Before lettmg criticism have its say, I would 
point out that there is a great deal more to be found in his monographs and in 
Iris great history of Napoleonic foreign policy. His account of diplomatic 
negotiations, his analysis of political situations at this or that critical moment, 
are all based on substantial research (though he too has been charged with having 
neglected foreign archives), and apart from that his narrative is sound, acute, 
sober, and to the point, generally not without a pleasant matter-of-fact flavour. 
He certainly managed to find firm support for part of his thesis from his own 
investigations. The legend of the peace-loving Napoleon with no thought for 
anything but the ‘natural frontiers’ he has shorn of much of its plausibility - 
we already noticed that when I compared Sorel’s account of the origin of the 
coalition of 1804-05 with that of Driault in his second volume. Likewise, it is 
more difficult, having read Driault, to maintain that Napoleon only thought 
of Britain, or of Egypt and Syria, or of his family. 

Especially interesting is Iris independence of the anti-British prejudice so 

R - n.f.a. - K 289 


noticeable in many of the French writers. What tirades have we not already 
heard about the wickedness of the ‘English oligarchy’. 

In discussing Pitt’s return to office after the resumption of the war in 1803, 
and the coincidence of this with the plots against Bonaparte’s life, Driault points 
out that the latter did not neglect to hold forth on the complicity of the British 
agents on the continent, who were in fact stimulated to greater activity by Pitt. 

This was his most precious means for the influencing of public opinion, the one 
which therefore he used most frequently. ‘L'or anglais' - that was the customary 
theme of the proclamations with which he kept the fires of French patriotism 
burning. ‘La perjide Albion' A century later French hearts still thrill to that phrase, 
and feel the throb of anger; long before Waterloo, Napoleon made a cult of it. 1 

Driault, at least the Driault of those days, would have nothing to do with the 
anti-British tradition which was so strong among his contemporaries such as 
Sorel, Vandal, Masson. 

His attempts at constructive argument, however, are less convincing. 

I11 the first place, what are we to think of this imperial idea, of these recollec- 
tions of Charlemagne, gradually superseded by recollections of ancient Rome, 
as affording die true explanation of that tremendous career and the motivatmg 
force of that restless spirit of enterprise? It is certain that Napoleon’s mind - 
and the thought of lus time -was permeated with images and ideas, with terms 
and phrases, taken from Roman antiquity. Nothing is more plausible than the 
argument that in the reaction against enthusiasm for Republican memories, 
men turned to imperial times. It is striking to find this pointed out time and 
again in Napoleon’s ideas, in his deliberate showing off as well as in his more 
intimate utterances; moreover Driault has independently elaborated the par- 
allel in point after point, sometimes with telling effect. But is it more? Is it more 
than an artistic illusion, a superficial frame superimposed loosely on great events 
which were hardly moulded by its discipline? Just as when Quinet tried to see 
in Napoleon a Constantine reborn through the mysterious workings of atavism, 
I find myself inclined to write ‘far fetched’. The comparison is exciting, and 
awakens all kinds of slumbering notions; I am even prepared to admit that 
Napoleon’s mind was occasionally set going in this fashion, and driven into a 
certain course. But can it be the real explanation? Even with regard to his 
ecclesiastical policy, where the influence was perhaps the strongest, this seems 
to me entirely unacceptable. And as for its being the motive for the wars, the 
decisive factor in directing the ambition, the true reason why, for example, 
Britain remained outside Napoleon’s active interest while Constantinople drew 
him, I cannot bring myself to believe this. I believe rather that the Western 

1. Napoleon et V Europe, n, 114; see p. 159 for another example. 



Empire, and afterwards the Empire in its wider sense, Charlemagne, Constan- 
tine, and Diocletian, were names with which to adorn the untameable urge for 
action, the insatiable lust for power, and each new object of conquest as it 
appeared on the horizon. In other words I believe that the interpretation winch 
Dnault rejected, as being too vague for so precise and definite a mind, is the right 
one - the desire for world domination (Ume domination universelk’). 

But let me rather relate what another French historian has to say on this 
point. Muret, whom we know already as a critic of Sorel, published m the 
Revue ddiistoire moderne et contemporaine of 1913 an elaborate argument (see p 2S0) 
111 which he compared all the different hypotheses presented in the course of 
the last few years about the meaning and the purpose of Napoleon s foreign 
policy. He assigned a central position in that article to Driault’s ‘new conception’. 
Muret, by the way, limited himself to criticism in the domain of Napoleonic 
study, and this is a pity. I know nothing more penetrating, more cogent, and 
more balanced on the subject. 

Muret has much praise for Driault’s work. He looks upon it as a contribution 
of outstanding importance which sweeps away a number of misconceptions 
and one-sided views and brings new light. The main attraction of this interpre- 
tation to him is its breadth. For the explanation must cover a conquest and a 
domination which did not cease to expand in all directions. This requirement was 
certainly satisfied by the conception of an irreconcilable Europe which com- 
pelled France to conquer ceaselessly in order to preserve (Sorel), but since the 
study of the documents is leading historians ever further from this view, Driault’s 
diesis of imperial ambitions becomes tempting. 

Nevertheless it is imperative that one should be clear as to what one means 
by it. ‘ The word empire is a vague term.* (It is amusing to find Muret here turning 
against Driault the qualification with which the latter set aside ‘ domination 
universelle\) ‘And as soon as one tries to be more precise, the question arises 
whether M. Driault does not draw excessive conclusions from a single word.’ 

The word empire can be connected either with the extent of the territories to 
which Napoleon’s ambitions were directed or with the nature of the power which 
he desired to exercise. 

If territorial extent be considered, the word empire must be called exceedingly 
vague. The empire of which Napoleon may have ‘dreamt’ has no analogy with 
any of the great empires mentioned by history. No doubt it may be roughly said 
that he reached at first more or less the boundaries of Charlemagne’s empire, that 
then, through domination of Germany and Italy, he approached the extent of the 
Germanic Holy Roman Empire, and that finally he seemed to strive, by appropria- 
tion of part of the Mediterranean lands, and by aiming at the east, towards a 
restoration of the Roman Empire. But would he have found his limit there? 



Already in 1812 the French Empire extended along the course of the Elbe and the 
Vistula into regions never dominated by the Romans. But above all, at the point it 
had reached, the Napoleonic Empire must in 1812 involve the min of two gieat 
empires: the continental Russian and the maritime and colonial English. Suppose 
[and Muret is able to justify the activity of his imagination with the example of the 
‘dream’ 1 with which Dnault credited Napoleon just before the catastrophe of 
December 1812, when at Moscow he deluded himself into thinking that he had 
the Russian Empire at his feet] suppose that Napoleon had remained victorious in 
1812. According to M. Driault, he would in that case not only have occupied 
Constantinople but have thrown back the Russians for good and all towards the 
north of Asia. That is to say, he would have restored Poland, he might even have 
taken away the Baltic provinces. Suppose further that as a result of the establish- 
ment of Napoleonic domination over the whole European continent, England 
were compelled to make peace. Would not Napoleon then have thought of India, 
where he did actually plan more than once to strike at the English? Once in control 
of Constantinople and of India, would he have suffered the continued existence of 
the Persian Empire, another territory with which he had already meddled in 1806 
and 1807? What would have become of the old Spanish colonial empire? Since we 
are now launched on the wide waters of supposition, I am beginning to wonder 
whether we are justified in saying that Napoleon would have halted m Constanti- 
nople or at the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, or at the Atlantic coast. Can one 
not imagme a vast empire, outside the bounds of the old Roman Empire, down to 
the far comers of Iran, down to Ceylon, across the Indian Ocean, and covering 
Central and South America? What does all this mean, if not that it is impossible 
to confine the Napoleonic dream and to draw an arbitrary limit which his ambitions 
would not have crossed? Applied to the extent of territory, the word empire has no 
sense unless it means world domination. 2 

Muret is thus led to ask whether the search for the aim of Napoleon’s policy 
in which all the recent authors had joined had any object at all. ‘Had this pokey 
an aim? Was there a great Napoleonic plan capable of definition?’ Was there a 
secret ? 

To speak of an aim is to speak of choice, is to speak of subjecting all other objects 
to a definite plan of disciplined activity. Now Napoleon - this is at least the impression 
which we have gathered from the writings ofM. Driault [my italics] - was never willing 
to choose. He carried on simultaneously and in all directions the most varied 
enterprises . . . Napoleon could never bring himself to sacrifice certain ambitions 
for the better success of others. No mind was ever less capable of understanding the 
necessity of compromises [ transactions ]. This does not mean that he could not in 
certain circumstances be an accomplished diplomat, or that he did not in certain 
cases voluntarily reduce his claims. But - and M. Driault has proved it with abun- 

1. Napoleon en Italie, p. 675 ff. 2. p. 375 C 



dent evidence - he neve i consented to moderate his claims otherwise than tempor- 
arily, never without the thought at the back of his mind that he would soon leave 
behind him the signpost at which he was halting Never was he willing to take into 
account the interests or the ambitions of others . 1 

The conclusion to which Muret is led by his argument 2 is that ‘the Napoleonic 
policy is to be explained not by a definite plan but by a state ofmind' ’.It is as though 
we were back with Taine, or with the entire school of Mmc de Stack 

Meanwhile Muret has also been arguing that the word empire applied to the 
nature of Napoleon’s power is no more capable of precise definition. No doubt 
analogies can be noted. 

The creation of vassal states, the family connexions, characterize the Napoleonic 
Empire as belonging to a type of medieval dominance; later on the idea of unity 
seems to make it approach the Roman form. But how small is the significance of 
these analogies when we try to be a little more precise. At the origin of the Carol- 
ingian conception or of that of the Holy Roman Empire we find the Christian 
idea; and what remains of that in the Napoleonic conception? 

Has not Driault himself written that Napoleon, who wanted to be a Constantine, 
could in the eyes of the Church be no other than a Diocletian, a persecutor? 
And rightly so. ‘Napoleon, the Emperor of the Revolution/ says Muret, ‘did 
not resemble, he was the opposite of Charlemagne, the Emperor of the Church/ 
Let us note, in fairness to Driault, that he did not try to establish an iden tifi cation, 
but explicitly declared that Napoleon as Emperor brought another message than 
Charlemagne, to wit the message of the Revolution. But it was a message all the 
same, and thus far there was a resemblance. Yet it is also true that this made a 
radical difference at any rate in the attitude to the Church. But, Muret continues, 
Driault admits that Napoleon had more in common with the Roman Emperors. 

In Rome too [so Driault had written] the Emperor’s function was of popular origin 
and had been instituted in democratic fashion. Like Napoleon, the Caesars were the 
chosen of the people, so much so that they did not dare make their p o wer hereditary. 
Reaching across the royal dynasties, which based their existence upon divine right 
and which were consecrated by the bishops, he recovered the antique conception 
of the supremacy of civil power, secularized political authority, and linked the 
doctrines of the Revolution with those of imperial Rome. 

Muret does not contest the truth of this, but he judges nevertheless that there 
is an essential contradiction between the two systems. The rights of man, the 
idea of equality, which behind the imperial armies Napoleonic administrations 
brought to the nations, have no room in the Roman world of ideas. The revolu- 
tionary force which propelled Napoleon, and which is essentially French in 
origin, the national resistances which by themselves formed so strong an obstacle 

i. p. 379. 2. p. 380. 



that it was crushed against them, have created for Napoleonic activity circum- 
stances which find no analogy among those in which the Roman Emperors had 
to work. 

But what then is the significance of all these Carolingian or Roman formulas, 
which were not invented by M. Driault, which he did indeed find in the official 
literature of the Empire, but which he gives so unexpectedly important a part to 
play? In my opinion they were destined to strike the popular imagination; by 
evoking almost legendary figures or reminiscences, the pubhc was to be made to 
feel the grandiose character of imperial enterprise . . . One must not take for the 
aim of Napoleonic policy what was no more than a kind of symbol, an attempt to 
express it in the language which was most consonant with the mentality of con- 
temporaries. 1 

‘the prophet of the revolution’: contradictions 
There is yet another aspect of Driault’s theories which is also of essential sig- 
nificance in his system; I refer to his exaltation of Napoleon as the disseminator 
of the principles of the Revolution. We have seen that he introduces it into his 
development of the imperial idea and tries to establish an organic connexion 
between the two. From two points of view and in two manners, as we have 
also noted, he depicts the Emperor’s activity. He shows him introducing social 
reforms in the conquered territories, and at the same time creating the spirit 
and the condition which will give rise among populations that are oppressed, 
or divided between several states, to a national consciousness and to modem 
national movements. Muret refers to this only in passing, yet in so doing he 
raises a question of essential importance. ‘It is necessary,’ he says, ‘to distinguish 
between the aims of Napoleonic policy and its consequences/ And he wonders 
whether it is valid to conclude, from the fact that the Napoleonic conquest was 
favourable to the development of liberalism and of nationalities, that this advance 
animated the conquest and provided it with its purpose. 3 

There is no doubt that the latter opinion is sometimes expressed by Driault. 
When he has to admit that Napoleon did not liberate his subjected nations and 
did not even prepare their freedom, he is ready at once with the excuse - we 
have met it before (p.289) - that they, and Europe, were not yet ripe for freedom. 
It is true that in another place he frankly admits that Napoleon paid no attention 
to the rights of nationality, that he crushed the nations within the unity of his 
empire, and that therefore, as not belonging to his own time, he was broken 
himself (see p. 284). 

Elsewhere, at a later stage of bis work, 3 he describes Napoleon as ‘the very 

1. p. 377 £f. 2. Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporame , xvm, 378. 

3. Napoleon et VEurope , hi; Tilsit (1917), p. 18. 



conscious and determined agent of the expansion of revolutionary principles 
. . . the most forceful apostle of social equality, which forms the kernel of the 
French Revolution’s doctrine’. He considers that the Code civil which Napoleon 
‘taught to and imposed upon the major part of Europe’ rightly bore his name, 
if only for a moment, and he even propounds the hypothesis (see p. 285) that 
Napoleon fought Russia because this ‘autocratic and still Asiatic’ country was 
felt by him to be the principal obstacle to the decisive forward step of civilization. 

Yet, it is true, some ten years earlier 1 Driault had quoted the letter in which 
Napoleon urged Joseph, only that moment appointed King of Naples, to intro- 
duce the Code forthwith. Rut why? Out of love for social equality and to make 
civilization move a step forward? 

Introduce the Code civil in Naples; then you will see all that is not devoted to you 
melt away in a few years’ time, and what you want to retain will be more firmly 
established . . . The Code will confirm your power, because it does away with 
everything that is not protected by entails, and no great estates will remain except 
such fiefs as you will found. [Those fiefs he wanted granted especially to French- 
men, and soon there followed the establishment of duchies for his marshals and for 
others who were to form, in Naples, Illyria, and elsewhere, a trustworthy French 
nucleus.] This [Napoleon concludes] is what has made me preach the need of a 
civil code and has persuaded me to introduce it. 

The Driault of 1906 looked upon this as ‘a curious admission’, and judged that 
one could hardly apply it to the action of the First Consul in France. This may 
be, but as regards Naples tills conception of the Code as an instrument of power 
policy has nothing incredible. 2 The Driault of 1917, however, who saw Napo- 
leon as the protector of social equality against Russia, had forgotten even the 
pronouncement applied to Naples. 

Contradictions like these are typical. Vandal (see p. 286) has told us already 
that Napoleon ‘tried to propel the nations faster along the road of their destiny’. 
Vandal, who (as appears from his book) knew as well as anybody the complete 
lack of scrapie, the exclusive preoccupation with the interests of liis power policy, 
which animated Napoleon in his dealings with the Poles; Vandal, who even 
commits himself to the general statement that for Napoleon ‘human beings are 
first and foremost tools V and who would hardly have thought of arguing that 
he looked upon nations in another light ! And when Masson laments the fall of 

1. Napoleon en Italie, p. 463 £F. 

2. The argument Napoleon uses to persuade Louis to introduce the Code in Holland 
is similar m tendency. * Cela resserre les liens des nations d’avoir les memes lois civiles et 
les memes monnaies’: in other words, not to introduce social equality among the Dutch, 
but to bind Holland more closely to France. 

3. Napoleon et Alexandre Ier , 1, Foreword, p. vL 



Napoleon in 1 8 1 5, as being at the same time the fall of the nations, need I mention 
how little he cares as a rule for the freedom or the well-being of non-French 

Undoubtedly national pride is a motive force. Driault roundly admits that 
‘ we - we Frenchmen - in spite of the ill turns which Napoleon has done France, 
‘cherish a secret admiration for the glorious deeds performed by him at the head 
of the Grande Annie , when we realize that he, and we through him, prepared the 
revolutionary transformation of Europe’. 1 

Actually we are facing here the emotional factor which was going to animate 
Driault’s main work, and which came more and more to dominate his judge- 
ment: pride at the spectacle of this Roman Emperor who did such great deeds 
with France. That instead of trying to conquer the whole of Europe, he might 
by following a more modest policy have secured the ‘natural frontiers’ for 
France, is admitted by Driault in so many words more than once. He rejects 
explicitly Sorel’s opinion that ‘Europe’ would never have resigned itself to tins. 3 
‘In a hundred ways and on many occasions Napoleon might have consolidated 
the frontiers conquered by the Republic.’ But however much the possession of 
the Rhineland and of Belgium may appear to him desirable and altogether suit- 
able, after having studied the Emperor’s policy for many years, Driault cannot 
find it in his heart to reproach Napoleon for his failure. His admiration for this 
imperial, this salutary activity is unbounded. 

Perhaps [he speculates] he might have avoided the final disasters, if he had stopped 
there [that is in 1808, when having previously fought only with princes, he entered 
upon his struggle against the Spanish people] ; if after having brought to life or 
resurrected the Italian, German, Spanish, Polish nationalities, he had only applied 
his genius to the completion of French nationality within its national frontiers [it 
should be noted in passing that the ‘ natural frontiers ’ have now become the national 
frontiers, and that this enthusiast for the idea of nationality thinks it perfectly 
reasonable for Napoleon to * complete" French nationality with Rhineland Ger- 
mans, Flemings, and Brabanders] and to the organization of the Europe of the 
nationalities, which had during the last century been endeavouring so painfully to 
come into existence. But a happy Napoleon would not have been as great as the 
Napoleon of Leipzig and of Waterloo. 

Moreover: ‘It is easy for those who are not heroes to preach moderation in 

When the Frencliman looks with such complacency upon Napoleon’s policy 
of conquest, when he seeks Napoleon’s glory, shared by the whole nation, in his 

1. La politique orientate de Napoleon , p. 2. 

2. For example Napoleon et V Europe, nr, 362. 

3. in, 373 ff. 


contribution to the propagation of the beneficial principles of 1789 and to the 
awakening of the consciousness of modem nations, it becomes highly relevant 
to examine how tins actually took place, and as far as Napoleon is concerned what 
objective he pursued. Phrases like ‘that it was his historical task’ or ‘that a secret 
instinct drove him*, are, when all is said and done, no more than romantic or 
pseudo-philosophical fog, winch hinders close matter-of-fact study of the 
historical problem. Before I show to what extent Driault lost his way in that 
fog, I want, with a few more or less arbitrarily chosen examples, to give a hearing 
to other French lnstorians who in the course of detailed studies have expressed 
opinions about French domination in one or other of the occupied teintories. 


Let me begin then with a somewhat lengthy quotation 1 from an early work of 
Louis Madelin (about whom we shall have more to say), La Rome de Napoleon 
(1906). It is doubly interesting because in the attitude of mind of the Napoleonic 
officers and officials as described by him there are aspects which one could easily 
apply, if maliciously inclined, to Driault and other enthusiastic authors. 

In the Frenchman of 1809 there was something of the missionary as w r eil as the 
victorious conqueror. Ever since 1791 he had been an apostle, and however para- 
doxical the claim may appear, under Napoleon he still looked upon himself as the 
great apostle of liberty. With the missionary he shares the belief in the excellence of 
the creed which he propagates and the pitying contempt for the heathen who has 
had to live without it for so long; he bums with zeal to impose it, and is borne 
along on a proud conviction that the savages whom he converts to his religion will 
in course of time appreciate the benefits it confers. 

That creed. Liberty, relates, so Madelin goes on to explain, to ‘Roman liberty’, 
that is civil liberty, for the sake of which political liberties have had to be surren- 
dered; since 1792 this has become French liberty. Bonaparte, for all that since 
Brumaire he has suppressed the political liberties of the French, 

is none the less in Europe the champion, the incarnation of liberty. He liberates the 
peoples while at the same time regenerating them. 

Similarly every soldier is wanting to ‘regenerate Europe with the breath of 
liberty’, and so behind him is every French official. The one in his haversack, the 
other in his dispatch case, both bring liberty to the citoyens of Europe, and to their 
minds darkened by obscurantism , by priestly superstition , and by the despotism of 
tyrants, enlightenment. 

He quotes Sorel (‘the master of us all*, as he calls him, for to him his book is 
1. pp. 132-6. 



dedicated), to characterize the Frenchman of that period: ‘Let not the universe 
reject the regeneration which we offer it ; to resist it is rebellion/ 

The nation [Madelin continues] which has undertaken so great a task and has in 
part achieved it is la Grande Nation . It is a signal honour to be allowed to become, 
as is the case of the Spamards and the Neapolitans, the vassals of the Grande Nation , 
to share the benefits of its code, to be ruled by its pnnces. But the greatest honour 
in the world is to become, like the Belgians, the Rhinelanders, the Lombards, the 
Illyrians, a part of the Grande Nation. Every general in his proclamations, every 
prefect in his circulars, will loudly assert this; more, they believe it in good faith, 
or, let me say, naively. 

The Grande Nation has conquered a dozen countries for this unique ‘French 
liberty’ and the salvation it alone ensures, at the cost of a series of incredible vic- 
tories; the French have grown used to laying down the law, in the most literal 
sense. Caesar’s generals and pro-consuls combine the pride of the missionary with 
the superciliousness of the conqueror, and without admitting any comparison 
between the systems they have brushed aside from Amsterdam to Naples and that 
which they have substituted for them all, they consider themselves to be bom 
masters of the universe. 

Out of so proud a reliance upon his strength there springs in the Frenchman a 
contempt, tempered by an almost friendly condescension for those ‘poor fellows* 
whom he has compulsorily hberated with his arms and whose eyes he has opened 
to the light with cannon fire. 

On the whole the soldiers behaved well, discipline was strict. But the con- 
querors could not fail ‘profoundly to humiliate the conquered by an incessant 
boasting of their superiority, which soon became insulting ../ 

Every people has its pride and suffers when this is offended every day. And it was 
offended by those confident assertions that the crying need of these people was to be 
civilized, liberated, and regenerated, and that in the meantime they were deserving 
of compassion. . . . 

Another consequence of this French conceit is the wish of the majority of French 
administrators to substitute their laws, their institutions, and their regulations for 
those of the countries annexed, and even their spirit, their ways of living, their 
customs. Sometimes a prefect, more sensible than many others and realizing the 
undesirable effect of this line of conduct, would try to reconcile his instructions 
with local usage or would even set them aside in response to local aversion. Im- 
mediately he was called to order and reminded of the Napoleonic conception, the 
French tradition, the doctrine of centralization. Twice, in 1798 and in 1809 [that 
is to say, after the abduction of Pius VI by the Directorate and after that of Pius 
VII by the Emperor] French officials resented the spectacle of the clock of the 
Quirinal indicating the hour according to Roman instead of French time. Small as 
it is, the incident reveals a state of mind. The Imperial University with its pro- 
grammes and its lecture hours ; the clergy reduced to the unalterable rule of the Con- 



cordat; the administration, supervised by the ministries in the Rue de Rivoli or the 
Quai Voltaire and working with its unvaryingly similar bureaus and its holy red 
tape on a strictly centralized pattern; the prefects making their tour of inspection 
from Amsterdam, Hamburg, Laybach, or Rome on the same date, the same tour of 
inspection which is at the same time performed by the prefect of Seine-et-Oise and 
by the prefect of the Bouchcs-du-Rhone ; the courts of law from Haarlem to 
Naples under the auspices of the Grand Juge of the Place Vendome applying the 
articles of the Code Napoleon: that was the dream, and for five years it was the 
reality. A cruel reality, because it offended and crushed local habits; malignant, 
because it corroded the desirable and charming variety of the peoples; mad, 
because it went against the nature of things, against the character of men, against 
the needs of the climate. At times it became ludicrous, as when - and this is but an 
instance - the French prefect at a distribution of prizes, whether at Laybach, the 
Hague, or Rome, addressed the scholars with the identical speech which he might 
have used for the collegiens of Arras or of Besan^on. 

This, it may be objected, smacks of the conservative, and it is an impression 
that will later be confirmed. But this does not prevent there being truth in 
Madelin’s satire (for it deserves this name), and one need not be a conservative 
to smile at it and to learn from it at the same time. 


Madchn is by no means singular among French historians, with his sceptical 
treatment of the policy of reform in the subjected territories. Take Grandmaison, 
from whom (p. 172) I have already given a quotation, and whose principal work 
deals with the relations between Napoleon and Spain. Naturally we know before- 
hand that the attitude of this Catholic author towards the problem will be differ- 
ent from that of Driault. He sees in the intervention in Spain nothing but the 
blindness of the despot, who, having found it possible to mould according to his 
whim that uprooted generation of Frenchmen prepared for despotism by 
Rousseau, imagined that every other nation would be equally powerless to 
resist. But in Spain he hit his head against the untameable resistance of an entire 
nation, and above all of the masses. (See, however, the remark in note 2, p. 301.) 

It is not uninteresting to have an opportunity of observing Napoleon at work. 
Grandmaison describes his arrival in the little town, not far from the French 
border, where Joseph had taken refuge and where he was holding Ms court in 
November 1808 in expectation of being taken back to Madrid by his brother’s 
army. This Spanish expedition came at a most inappropriate moment for Napo- 
leon. Earlier in the year he had imagined that his coup at Bayonne would give 
him quiet in that direction and enable him to give the whole of his attention to 



eastern affairs. Since tlicn lie had met Alexander at Erfurt, where tilings had 
seemed bright enough on the surface. But although he was unaware exactly 
how far the inner estrangement had already proceeded under Talleyrand’s 
encouragement, he had been acutely conscious that the Spanish contretemps 
had affected his prestige. Now to have to undertake a campaign in that country, 
which was in itself unimportant, and this while Austria, spurred on by the 
Spanish example, was on the lookout for a chance to get its own back, was 
dangerous, was costly, was an intolerable delay. 

It was therefore with a bitter mind, with tingling nerves, with a worried look, and 
a mouth inclined to utter reproaches, that he crossed the Bidassoa . 1 

Without warning, he fell in with Joseph and his French and Spanish courtiers, 
and talked and talked. The need for a close unity between France and Spain was 
Ins theme; Spain must follow the French system step by step. Long faces among 
the Spaniards. But Napoleon took no notice of anything, and began to inveigh 
against the monks : he would dissolve every monastery. One Spaniard found 
the courage to tell him that these words, if they became known, would be worth 
an extra hundred thousand men to the rebels. Napoleon did not listen. On the 
previous day at Tolosa he had already snarled at the Capuchins who came to 
greet him : 4 Messrs Monks, if you have the hardihood to meddle with our mili- 
tary affairs, I pronnse you I’ll have your ears cut off.’ And he went on and on 
in tins tone. 

As early as the beginning of December, Madrid had to capitulate. The hot- 
tempered population submitted to this with difficulty, but Napoleon was able 
to avoid an assault, and thereupon caused his propaganda machine to hand out 
the most sugary description of the attitude and the state of mind of the Madrilenos. 
At the same tune, however, he was already engaged upon reforms, and this 
without even consulting Joseph. Monasteries were dissolved, the tribunal of 
the Inquisition was abolished (Grandmaison sees no merit even in this, since 
this institution had become completely innocuous), and also seigneurial rights 
and tribunals; officials were dismissed ignominiously. The unrest continued, 
and the tone of the imperial bulletins grew sharper. All groups of the resistance 
were condemned in most offensive terms. The corregidor , accompanied by a 
number of deputies, had to listen to a speech by Napoleon which was a mixture 
of threats, reassurances, and boasts. His contemptuous remarks about bad con- 
ditions and about backwardness certainly contained more truth than Grand- 
maison is prepared to admit, but when one reads the text one readily understands 
that this was not the way to achieve anything with the Spaniards: 

Your grandchildren will bless me as your regenerates. The day when I appeared in 

i. Grandmaison, VEspagne et Napoleon , i, 260. 



your midst, they will count among the most memorable, and from that day Spain’s 
prosperity will date its beginning. 1 

Taken as a whole, Grandmaison’s picture is undoubtedly partisan, 2 3 and thus 
in a sense unfavourable to Napoleon. Every measure taken against the Church 
is in his opinion reprehensible. But now take Pierre Conard, who in 1909 wrote 
a thesis about the French military government in Catalonia (February 1808 to 
January 1810).* He argues that it will not do, as has been repeatedly attempted, 
to put all excesses to the account of the generals. They acted on the strength of 
Napoleon’s orders, and gained his approval. He held up their conduct as an 
example to Joseph, and the judgement of Conard, who shows 110 special tender- 
ness towards the Church, is that 

their measures did not seem in any way to aim at regeneration. Even those which 
were occasionally announced as preparatory for reforms or renovations in reality 
sprang from military or financial considerations. 

In 1893 there appeared a work about the French administration in the regions 
along the east coast of the Adriatic. The author was an abbe. 4 He describes Dal- 
matia as a country which at the beginning of the nineteenth century was still 
in the middle ages. Its clergy were all-powerful, and yet the French authorities 
(Marmont, Duke of Ragusa, was for a time the governor) tried to govern without 
and against the clergy. French legislation was introduced, without any reference 
to the educational level of the population. 

A people’s legislation is the product of its habits, its traditions, its history, even of 
the nature of its soil. France was in those days too proud of its laws to be able to 
admit that they might not answer the needs of all times and all peoples . . . The 
result . . . was that this population was turned into rebels. Awaiting the call to arms, 
the Dalmatians kept as much as possible outside the administrative machinery, of 
which they did not and would not understand the mechanism. With an instinctive 
aversion they looked upon that formidable machine; their simple and narrow 
minds were able to discern these two of its functions only: conscription and taxa- 
tion. All the legislator’s great ideas, his wise, beneficial, and farsighted intentions 
were misunderstood. 

1. op. cit. p. 483. 

2. A more recent book on the same subject is that of A. Fugier, Napoleon et VEspagne , 
which rejects a presentation of the resistance as general, national, unhesitating, on account 
of this being a conventional or romantic presentation. 

3. La captivite de Barcelona, p. 368 f£, 386. 

4. The abbe Pisani, La Dalmatie de 1797 to 1815 . 



A third case is that of Belgium, about which Lanzac de Laborie, also a man of 
fairly conservative inclinations, wrote: 

One can, of course, not say of Belgium that little was achieved there, because it 
was exposed too long to the systematic operation of French assimilation, and 
because the spread of the French language among the aristocracy and intellectuals 
at an earlier date made its influence felt during the twenty years of annexation. But 
what causes for irritation there were, and what aversion ! The religious policy winch 
as a result of the Concordat had for one moment taken a direction acceptable to 
Cathohcs, when Napoleon found himself at odds with the Pope, became repellent 
to the Belgians and particularly to the Flemings. 

But in his conclusion Lanzac de Laborie speaks in quite general terms about 
‘the diffidence and hostile sentiments of the population’, which in the end ‘were 
the answer to the irksome meddling of the administration ’. 1 

If one asks whether the result of the undoubtedly profound transformation 
of Belgium which resulted from this episode was salutary, one will at the very 
least have to take into account some darker aspects. The old administrative forms, 
winch were cast aside without mercy, afforded protection to valuable social 
institutions. The new leading class which rose with the new administrative 
arrangements was in many respects - and in Flanders in particular, owing to the 
language - more remote from the population. The centralization was fatal to 
much that was characteristic and independent. 


The most backward countries, Spain, Dalmatia, which were still most deeply 
immersed in feudal ways of living and of thinking, proved to be the least acces- 
sible to French reforms. It was not in the backward but in the enlightened part of 
Europe that these were readily accepted. In western Germany, in Italy, in Holland 
- but m Holland their effect was extremely limited 2 - there existed a civilization 
and a social consciousness which had certainly been stimulated by the French 
‘philosophy’ but which was mainly nourished from currents and traditions that 
were both native and universally European. The French philosophy, after all, 

1. La domination Jrangaise en Belgique (1895), II, 335. 

2. Dutch historiography is accustomed to emphasize the advantages of the annexation. 
It should be realized, however, that in taking this line Dutch historians have chiefly had 
m mind political reforms: the resolute imposition of unity, and an administration to 
match. From the social point of view, the French had no great contribution to make; 
the rule of privilege which they had had to overcome m France had been on the wane 
for centuries in Holland, and to a certain extent had vanished altogether. Owing to the 
Reformation, the problems of the monasteries, ecclesiastical property, and the attitude of 
the Catholic hierarchy to the State had ceased to exist in Holland. Thus French annexation 
of Holland did not involve a social revolution such as resulted from it in various other 



was "by no means exclusively Frencli. One lias only to recall the British contri- 
bution. It was principally tlieir political disruption winch made it difficult for 
the nations mentioned to take the initiative for thorough reform, and it was the 
French conquest that helped them over this obstacle. Who dare say that if it had 
not taken place, civilization and progress might not have found another way, 
a better one, perhaps? There were indeed minds in those countries winch could 
have taken the lead. We have already seen French writers who contrasted the 
German civilization of those days to its advantage with that of the Frencli, as it 
had become under Napoleon. Before the Frencli Revolution a number of 
European countries possessed reforming ‘enlightened despots’. In Holland 
there was a highly promising middle-class agitation. Who will be able to weigh 
the speeding-up of the process of development, as a result of the violent inter- 
ference by the French Revolution and Napoleon, against the disasters that 
resulted from it; against the clumsy mistakes, the violence, and the unnecessary 
breaches with the past; against the intensification of national antagonisms, in 
particular of the German hatred for France which has been a curse for Europe 
and most of all for France herself? Even the reaction about which Driault likes 
to expatiate - ‘the Holy Alliance’ of princes is a nightmare to him - might per- 
haps never have taken on such acute forms. It must be admitted anyhow- that in 
most countries the reaction was not as bad as might have been expected. It turned 
only by exception against the civil liberties winch had been everything for 
Napoleon. Against the political liberties, yes, and also against the freedom of 
nationalities like the Poles and the Italians, it was at its worst. But one must in- 
dulge in a good deal of crooked reasoning to presume to place Napoleon in 
shining contrast on these two points (although we have already seen a few 
French historians writing in this sense, and presently we shall see Driault doing 
it as well). 

Let us look at one other well-known book which deals vrith the French dom- 
ination in Germany. It appeared in 1897, and the author was Alfred Rambaud. 1 
What do we read here about the case of Palm (see p. 43)? That Napoleon gave 
orders not only for the arrest but for the death sentence, including its justification ; 
that the unfortunate bookseller of Nuremberg had done nothing very dreadful ; 
that the deed caused profound emotion and indignation in Germany, and con- 
tributed mightily to the rise of the German sense of cohesion across the boun- 
daries of the small states, and at the same time turned it intensely against the 
French - all this we are told uncompromisingly. The conclusion is, nevertheless, 
somewhat surprising in a historical work, in the work of a University scholar 

1. La domination frangaise en Allemagne. The second volume is called VAUemagne sous 
Napoleon ler (1804-11). The author was Professeur a la Faculte des Lettres de Pat is. 



The death of an innocent man, or if one prefers to put it so, a punishment so ill 
proportioned to the offence, is well calculated to bring about a revulsion of 
humane sentiments. But we must harden our hearts about such matters, we who 
have since [an allusion of course to the war of 1870] seen German generals threaten- 
ing French towns with sack and bombardment for the sake of a newspaper article. 1 

When we see the dictator [says Rambaud in trying to draw up the balance] 
proclaiming in Westphalia, in Bavaria, in Poland, the liberation of the peasants, 
freedom of conscience, equality before the law, when we see the Code of the 
Constituent Assembly, which has become the Code Napoleon, get a footing on the 
Rhine and on the Vistula, we have the right to feel proud on behalf of the French 
Revolution which was made by the nation as a whole. 2 

It was only natural that the Germans of the Rhineland, who in 1792 had en- 
thusiastically welcomed the French revolutionaries, should recognize in the 
Napoleonic measures the realization of part of their programme. But the eternal 
wars were not in accordance with the principles of 1789, they were the Emperor’s 
personal policy. 

It is no use saying that Ms victories were necessary for the propagation of the new 
principles. It needed no more than a France strong within her frontiers of Rhine 
and Alps, for the French principles to find their way in Europe. Thus the propa- 
ganda would have been slower but surer, and liberty and equality would not have 
been exposed to the vicissitudes of war, finally to succumb in Germany, after 
Leipzig, because a despot was beaten in the field by other despots. Western Ger- 
many, daily growing more like France, daily further outstripping eastern Germany 
in progress, would have recognized its friends and compatriots not in Berlin or 
Vienna, but in Paris. The period of national hatreds and of the terrible national 
wars could not have come upon us. Out of that great crisis would have been born 
not a Prussian Germany, for which we remain the hereditary enemies, but a 
French and democratic Germany, united with us in a common political faith, 
co-heir of the Revolution. 

Napoleon accepted in the name of the Revolution as legislator hut rejected as 
man of war; this is an entirely different conception again from that of Driault 
(see p. 288) with his ‘the Revolution is aggressive hy nature* and with his ‘the 
nature of humanity is such that the sword is sometimes necessary for the triumph 
of ideas *.s But tMs well-meaning and pacific Rambaud deems it best, neverthe- 
less, for the Rhinelanders to become French. And he views with regret, and, 
what is worse in a historian, without understanding, the national uprising of 
the German people against French domination. 

Fichte, who welcomed the French Revolution in 1792, inveighed against 

1. p. 33 * 2. p. 471. 3. La politique orientate de Napoleon , p. 5. 



Napoleon in liis Re den an die dcutschc Nation . ‘To tills evolution of the great 
philosopher corresponded that of the whole of liberal Germany, which no 
doubt acquitted itself dutifully in 1813. But what did it profit liberty?’ 1 Thus 
Rambaud, and he opposes the current German view, winch applies the national 
standard as a matter of course and sees good Germans only in those who took 
part against the conqueror, while it rejects those who supported him. ‘There is 
nothing dishonourable to Germany in the fact of our hegemony’, he declares; 
and he observes that the Napoleomc system was accepted by statesmen, rulers, 
scholars and men of letters, industrialists, and peasants. But one has only to read 
Ills own book, to understand how completely unacceptable that regime was. 

I have already mentioned the impression made by the execution of Palm. How 
could German opinion remain indifferent to the attempts at armed resistance in 
1809? How could the Westphalians regard it as an honour to be governed by a 
playboy like Jerome, whose sole virtue was to be the brother of the conqueror, 
who knew no German, in several of whose ministries all business was conducted 
in French, while at the head of the secret police was a Frenchman who also knew 
no German? 3 

If, having looked at the problem a few times from various angles, we now 
return to Driault, we are in a better position to understand how immensely 
simplified is his conception. No one will deny that the French Revolution and 
the French conquest under Napoleon gave a tremendous impulse to the develop- 
ment of new social and political forms in the rest of our continent. But Driault’s 
antithesis between enlightened mature France and backward, simple-minded, 
and monarch-ridden ‘Europe’ bear witness to a somewhat naive national self- 
conceit, and betray not only a lack of understanding for the feelings of other 
nations but also ignorance concerning their history. As I have already suggested, 
his view was more or less that of the imperial officials described by Madelin. 
And his increasing tendency to exalt Napoleon as the liberator of the nations, 
the prophet of their national sentiment, without asking himself whether this 
was a conscious endeavour, or the unintentional outcome of the oppression to 
which he subjected them, exposed his historical understanding to most sur- 
prising aberrations. 


At the beginning of this chapter I said that I would try to reconstruct Driault’s 
interpretation as much as possible from his earlier works. Even this has turned 
out to be a difficult enterprise, because while ceaselessly revolving the same 
conception he modifies the accents on each occasion. But although even then 
1. p. 478. 2. pp. 264, 286. 



this acute and critical mind displayed a tendency to lose itself in a Napoleonic 
mysticism, his friends of the Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine can hardly 
have foreseen, though they must now and then have shaken their heads over 
him, that gradually he would throw away all self-control, all judgement, for 
the Roman imperial fantasy, and end by writing books which are m flat contra- 
diction to his first. Anyhow, he soon went his own way, and in 191 1 he became 
the first chief editor of the Revue deslztudes napolioniennes. 

The third volume of his Napoleon et VEurope, which appeared in 1917 in the 
midst of the war, is still on the borderline, although I have quoted passages which 
make an odd impression. 1 With the fourth volume, published in 1924, the border- 
line is definitely crossed. Driault has become the victim of the system winch he 
had been constructing for years, and in the end proves unable to stand up to con- 
tact with Napoleon and his imperial dreams. But the shock which caused him 
to lose his balance was (as will become still clearer in the last chapter) the First 
World War. 

The style, always a little disjointed, short of breath, colourless, but at the same 
time sharp and to the point, has now become impatient, staccato, nervous. The 
fourth volume opens with a recapitulation of the whole system, in which every 
characteristic is more strongly marked. I shall try to lift from a good thirty pages 
the most striking sentences. 

The historical tradition of the imperial title. 

History was severe to the first emperors, Tacitus and Suetonius dealt hardly with 
Tiberius and Nero and the rest. This is because they knew them only through their 
crimes and their despotism; they lived too near them - as we do to Napoleon - to 
be able to judge rightly of their historic function. [The reader is now warned that 
crimes and despotism will no longer disturb the author.] The imperial idea through- 
out the centuries was not an accident bom of personal ambition; it was one of the 
fundamental laws of world history. This it still is, and will be for a long time, for 
ever . . . This activating idea [idee-force] meets with contradiction, with obstacles. 
The conception of individual liberty does not square with it, at least so it seems. 
Nor does the conception of nationality - but perhaps that too is so only to the eye 
. . . The universal, humanitarian revolution of 1789, with its new political creed, 
sprung from the teaching of Christianity, of the equality of all human beings before 
death and before God, will find its instrument, its conqueror. . . . 

The Roman Education of France. 

Gaul was Rome’s best pupil ... A Frankish Mediterranean Empire . . . The Mero- 
vingians and Carolingians, barbarians as they still were, had imitated the laws of 
Rome with touching zeal . . . Pan-Germanic historians have never ceased to exploit 
1. pp. 294-7 above. 



the Treaty of Verdun of 843 . . . The greater Lotharingia, created by this treaty, 
will ever mean death to France unless it becomes French. The Rhine frontier is 
indispensable for the normal life of France . . . Germania had nothing Roman . . . 
The Emperors were strangers in Rome, barbarians . . . France created the law of 
the balance of power, a refuge for the weak ... As a form of political organization, 
however, the balance cannot compare w Ith the empire. The empire is best for 
peace, because it imposes peace. . . . [Whether that really is the safest way for 
peace, ever /one may judge for himself.] 

Now follows the application to Napoleon. ‘All that he touched, at once took 
shape and became great in history.’ Even in the controversy with the Pope, in 
winch until that moment Driault had shown much understanding for the eccle- 
siastical point of view, he now takes sides with Napoleon; there iv wan Emperor 
of Rome ! ‘There was even a Roman Emperor.’ Napoleon’s benefactions to Italy 
are recalled. But his greatest benefaction was Austerhtz. 

There at last he overthrew after ten centuries the Holy Roman Empire, the enemy 
of the nations, the Bastille of Europe, the barrier against the Revolution. There, 
without perhaps expressly [my italics] willing it, he pointed the way to the oppressed 
nationalities . . . Westphalia, a colony of the French spirit. 

As Charlemagne once tried to introduce Germany into the civilized world 
through Christianity, so he - ‘a second Charlemagne, with a clearer mind and 
gi eater genius’ - tried to do the same through the doctrme of the Revolution, 
and in this way it will no doubt at last be a success ! In passing, Lavisse, the great 
imiversitaire historian of that generation, is rapped over the knuckles because 
he had called Napoleon’s empire ‘an unbearable anachronism’. Driault, who 
in former days (see p. 284) had placed Napoleon outside his tune, because of his 
lack of understanding of the nationalities and his neglect of Britain, now will 
have nothing of this. The unbearable anachronism is the Holy Roman Empire, 
which he destroyed: 

In that way he assured the existence of the new nations; he calls them, he already 
allows them to live, to begin with under his guardianship, for they are still fragile, 
and by his fall their life will be jeopardized. 

Need I say that while this is a profession of faith, it is not history? 

The Emperor [says Lavisse with a truly satisfying sense of balance] clothes the 
Revolution in archaeological dress . . . but the Revolution is within him. It is the 
Revolution he serves, in spite of himself and against himself, when, oppressing 
Europe because such is his pleasure, he awakens the soul of the Spanish and of the 
German peoples. 1 

1. Li the two pages which deal with Napoleon in his Vue generate de Vhistoire politique 
de V Europe, 1890. 



In spite of himself and against himself - once upon a time Driault too knew tins 
(see p. 294). Yet we are now presented with this coloured print of the Emperor 
fondling the nations. Pure legend of St Helena ! 

Later, when discussing European conditions in 18 10, Driault defends the whole 
of the Emperor’s unsound and shaky stiucture in Germany. The greatness of 
modern Germany originates with Napoleon. (Had he intended tins too? It is 
not said in so many words, but it seems to be implied.) Yet, says the author, his 
German work was less successful than his Italian, one would almost say that his 
‘Latin genius’ felt less at ease there. But he was interrupted in Germany - and 
with this apology the author allows himself to soar into dithyrambics on tins 
account as well: 

His Latin genius, given a little time, would have perfectly sufficed for the task. The 
Latm genius is sufficient for all organization; it is capable of bringing order into the 
worst chaos, even into the Germanic chaos. 1 

If, at the outset, Driault’s treatment of the theme ‘Prophet of the Revolution* 
still showed contradictions, these have now been solved. But how? Through 
admiration for the impressive phenomenon, carried away by remarkable and 
striking parallels (which are, after all, no more than parallels), the man who 
seemed to take position against Sorel’s determinism, who saw Napoleon’s great- 
ness in the freedom, in the personal nature of bis policy, has now slipped back 
into determinism himself. At first there were only passing references to the 
necessary, the providential, character of Napoleon’s interventions in Europe, 
to his task as the agent of the greatest and most salutary revolution mankind has 
ever known, at any rate since that of Christianity. Napoleon may have acted 
consciously or unconsciously; this did not seem very clear to the author, and 
the worst is that he did not care. Now the system has been closed, Napoleon has 
become inviolable. To set oneself against him is to put oneself outside history. 
All liberal opposition within France, all national opposition without becomes 
senseless or, if it has a sense, reactionary. We are not to inquire too nicely into 
his mentality or his intentions ; Napoleon has become the chosen champion of 
the goddess Revolution, of the French Idea, in other words of Enlightenment, 
Progress, and Civilization. 

There remains one slight reservation as a relic of the author’s past opinions: 
Napoleon perhaps did not intend all these beautiful things. Or rather, he did 
intend them, but perhaps not explicitly (see p. 307) . . . The fourth volume was 
not Driault’s last. In the final volume even this reservation has been thrown to 
the winds. 

1. iv, 168. Driault never consistently proclaims the true ‘universalism* of Napoleon’s 
aim, as Vandal does (see p. 217 and note to p. 219 above.) 




In the fifth volume. La Chute de I’Enipiie , we turn with anticipation to the chapter 
on the Congress of Prague. What do we find? I note the title : Le Conores der isoire. 
It is a quotation from Napoleon’s correspondence - that correspondence about 
which Driault had warned us twenty years earlier (sec p. 280) that the Emperor 
never admitted himself to be in the wrong, that he always showed a pacific 
face, in short that one ought never to take him at his word. I also note the con- 
clusion: ‘War was indeed inevitable. The Allies wanted it, and Napoleon could 
not capitulate.’ One would like to press into the author’s hands the article he 
once wrote against Sorel - not that I consider that article to be the last word 
upon this matter. 

1814, 1815 - the emotionalism and the distress of Houssaye, Arthur-Levy, 
and Masson added together can scarcely equal the emotion with which Driault 
describes the downfall and the treason, the heroism and the steadfastness. But 
with the last chapter, ‘The Legend of Napoleon’, the author recovers all his 
courage, all Ins faith. He is like the veteran of whom Balzac tells (see p. 28) that 
he could not believe in the Emperor’s death. Napoleon is still alive, Napoleon 
is the People personified for Action. He is Democracy, in the sense of popular 
authority. There exists in France, says Driault, an antithesis between the consular 
or imperial democracy and the parliamentary republic. 

The University chose sides for the parliamentary regime; founded by Napoleon, 
it used the centralized force which he gave it to preach in all its divisions the doctrine 
of parliamentary liberties against authoritarian democracy. 

Here, one would expect a peccavi from the author, since we saw how he had 
associated liimself with this attitude in his textbook. But he contents himself' with 
the conclusion that these are two sides of democracy which ought to agree. He 
has broken now with Mme de Stael, whom he once (see p. 159 n.) protected 
against her biographer Gautier. He mocks at the few ideologists, distant dis- 
ciples of hers, to whom the long-dead Napoleon is still the bogy-man. France, 
he exclaims, knows better; France has not repudiated the glory of Arcole, and 
of Marengo, of Austerlitz, and of Jena, of Montmirail, and even of Waterloo. 
In the war - the First World War - Britain participated for the sake of destroying 
German trade. (One sees that Driault, who used to shrug his shoulders at the 
fashionable French anglophobia, now shares it as an accomplished Bonapartist.) 
America came in as late as possible, in order to be quite sure that its intervention 
would be good business . . . (The British; the Germans, naturally more than ever 
since 1914; the Russians, finally revealed as barbarians since 1917; and now 



apparently also the Americans - all are in the author’s bad boohs. Only the French 
remain ... or is it, perhaps, the Latins?) 

In that war [Driault continues] it is the dead hero sleeping in the Invalides who 
when France wills it for her salvation and for her greatness compels the govern- 
ment to act. In the supreme moment of danger Gallieni 1 is put into office at Bordeaux. 

Masson, too, it will be remembered, imagined that it was Napoleon who won 
the war of 1914 . . . 

The fifth volume of NapoUon et V Europe, which concluded the work in 1927, 
is not likely to have reached a wide public. In its inception it was aimed at the 
circle of those who have some historical training, even though such readers in 
perusing the last volume must at times have rubbed their eyes. But a few years 
later Driault published a popular work called Le vrai visage de NapoUon , which 
will nicely round off our study of the author. 

Though written entirely for effect, and by no means without talent - unless 
tins be the impression created by the inspiration borrowed from its subject - 
every page bears the mark of the well-informed scholar. All the problems are 
faced vigorously, and the points at issue handled with a sure touch. Only, it is 
in every respect the precise counterpart of the school book of 1903. Not a single 
word of criticism of the Consul-Emperor appears. 

Brumaire, the unpleasant side of which had once been brought to the fore, is 
now greeted with jubilation, altogether in the manner of Vandal, except for 
that challenging declaration (obviously addressed to him, even though his name 
is not mentioned) that Brumaire, which saved the Revolution, was not a counter- 
revolutionary act. 2 Centralization, of which the deadening effect on intellectual 
life was once emphasized, and which is still a subject of grievance in La politique 
orientate of 1904, has now become one of the greatest creations of Bonaparte, 

A Roman work, performed with good French material, backed by several centuries 
of experience and classical education; with the strong mason work of the First 
Consul’s will, it seems to partake of eternity.* 

The Concordat . . . but this deserves a digression, which will be the last. 

In his book on NapoUon en Italie (1906) Driault made a remark about the policy 
of Bonaparte, which we have not yet met elsewhere and which is nevertheless 
sufficiently widespread in modem historiography to deserve our attention for 
a moment. Bonaparte wanted an understanding with the Church. But, advised 
by Talleyrand, he also wanted to uphold Gallican principles. What a mistake 
he made ! Thus Driault. For while he was holding forth on the doctrine of Bossuet, 

1. v, 431. a. p. 83. 3. p. in. 



the arrangement he made with the Pope was its very denial. Indeed, the strength 
of Gallicanism resides in the independence it attributes to the Bishops and their 
councils. True, even under Louis XIV the State had tried to ally itself with this 
and to make use of it. (Dnault might have pointed to the same phenomenon in 
Germany and in Austria, in the shape of Febronianism.) Yet its indispensable 
source had been the national theologians* conviction of the divine origm of the 
episcopate, which made the Pope appear as no more than primus inter pares. 
Bonaparte himself administered the death blow to Gallicanism when he agreed 
with the Pope that the latter’s spiritual supremacy would be made to heal the 
schism born from the Constitution civile. The true Galilean method would have 
been to reach an agreement with the French bishops, to unite into a council 
and reconcile constitutioneh and anti-constitutionels . ‘Perhaps tills would have 
been the way once and for all to found a national Catholic Church in France.’ 
(The perhaps covers a great deal: it is easy to imagine how impertinent Vandal 
would have considered this criticism of the First Consul, since such a reconcilia- 
tion between the constitutioneh , whom the faithful abhorred as revolutionaries, 
and the anti-constitutionels , who were mostly emigres and in whom the govern- 
ment saw dangerous counter-revolutionaries, must remain impossible without 
the intervention of the Supreme Head of the Church.) To compel both parties 
to resign their dignities into the hands of the Pope and to submit to be rein- 
stituted by him, in so far as they could be employed - that in any case was a 
solution from which must result an ultramontane Church. 

I have already indicated the grounds upon which one could attack this 
interpretation. Yet the failure of the Concordat, even in Napoleon’s own time, 
and the increasingly ultramontane character of the French Church, are symp- 
toms which justify a critical attitude towards the alleged wisdom of Bonaparte’s 
policy. But in Le vrai visage no trace is left of the author’s former insight, and 
everything done by the Fust Consul is well done. 1 

We are noticing all the time how strongly the repercussion of contemporary 
events makes itself felt in the work of historians. For the Driault of Le vrai visage , 
the Bolshevists are still the traitors of 1917, the destroyers of society; and the 
far-seeing genius of Napoleon receives all the more praise, for he it was who 
wanted to unite Europe in resistance to Slav barbarism. 2 Driault is obsessed by 
the war through which he has lived, by the brutality of the Germans and the 
beauty of the victories that have been won. The Mame is more beautiful than 
Austerlitz, more beautiful the heroism displayed by the nation, its soldiers 
greater still than those of the Grande Armie. He recalls the ceremony of 1921:, 
a century after the death of the hero. 

1. p. 1 12 ff.; for the whole question, see p. 102 f£ above. 

2. p. 230. 


In the evening at the Invalides Marshal Foch, Generalissimo of the Allied Armies, 
holding in his hands the sword of Austerhtz, saluted, m his turn [after the Minister 
of War, Barthou, and the President of the Republic, Millerand] the great emperor 
reclining in front of him in his porphyry sarcophagus: ‘Sire, sleep in peace. Even 
from the tomb you are still working for France.’ 

And so forth. 

Indeed, the commemoration of 1921 fell into the hands of militarists and 
conservatives to such an extent that M. Herriot, the then President of the National 
Assembly of France, felt himself obliged to resign from the National Committee. 

Part 6 

The Antithesis at the End 

Currents and Counter Currents 


When I wrote (p. 172) that in the years before and after 1900 the chorus of 
admirers dominated, and mentioned the persistence with which a Catholic 
author kept on sounding an inharmonious note, I thought of the historical 
writing with literary pretensions, a genre which can at the same time possess 
historical originality and reach and influence a hroad public. In reviewing the 
apologies and the glorifications, however, we have come across sharp and inde- 
pendent criticism from quite a number of writers apart from Grandmaison. I 
have mentioned pronouncements of that kind by Lavisse, Bourgeois, Rambaud, 
Muret, Guyot, Conard, Coquelle, Carron, Godechot. It is worth while under- 
lining the fact that all these, with the exception of Coquelle, belong to the world 
of professional historians 1 from the Universite. I shall try presently to show, from 
works winch could not find a place in a section devoted to the problem of foreign 
policy, to what extent there prevailed in that world a conception of Napoleon 
different from that held by the Houssayes, the Massons, the Vandals, and the 

It was only in their circle - we may indeed say the circle of the Academic , and 
we may oppose to it the circle of the Universite , even though the statement 
ought to he accompanied by a number of qualifications and restrictions - it was 
only in the circle of authors with literary pretensions, after Taine, that the ‘de- 
tractors’ were hardly heard any more. And indeed my attempts to account for 
the striking renewal of the legend by the circumstances of the time and the 
spiritual atmosphere 2 did not give the whole story. True though it undoubtedly 
is that in the nineties among men of letters and thinkers a conscious and syste- 
matic tuna towards tradition, authority, and nationalism can be observed, winch 
favoured the Napoleonic cult, there never lacked counter currents, which were 
swelled considerably as the result of the Affaire Dreyfus. Generally speaking, 
love and admiration have a greater creative capacity than hatred and aversion. 
In any case they more easily established contact with the reading public, and the 

1. Translator’s Note. The usual expression ‘academic’ historians cannot be used here 
since it would lead to confusion with historians belonging to the Academic. 

2. p. 143 above. 



interest in Napoleon - precisely at the moment when his figure was slipping 
away into the distance of time and the immediate political significance of the 
various ways of viewing him was perhaps weakening - became an interest in 
the great Napoleon, and demanded the absorbing, elevating, thrilling spectacle 
rather than the cool, matter-of-fact, destructive analysis. 

Meanwhile the fact remains that the traditional connexion between French 
radicalism and military valour had grown weaker about the turn of the century. 
After the first defeats of 1870, this tradition had still shown itself personified in 
Gambetta. That it was not dead would soon appear in the person of Clemenceau, 
and the events of our own time prove its unshakeable vitality. But just at that 
moment there arose against it an anti-militaristic mtemationalist frame of mind, 
which contributed to strengthen the old liberal-humanist aversion to Napoleon. 
In the Dreyfus affair these currents joined for a moment, and in Anatole France, 
the sceptic, the mocker, who was suddenly and in spite of himself drawn into 
the struggle for offended right, we can see them united. Let us listen for a moment 
to what he, also an academicien , but a black sheep in that white flock, has to say 
about Napoleon. 


One naturally turns first to his satirical history of France, Tile des Pingouins 
(1908), and one will indeed find some amusing pages, although they do not 
amount to more than somewhat broad fun at the expense of the Napoleonic 
legend. AMalay traveller finds the island - not an He but an insule 1 - in a deplorable 
condition. The memory of a certain Trinco appears to be worshipped because 
he did a great deal of fighting, in which, the stranger reflects, he did not distin- 
guish himself from the rest of mankind. But the Penguins cling to their pride 
in his victories, although they had to pay a terrible price for them: ‘Glory is 
never won at too great a price/ they reply severely to the visitor’s doubting 

In La Re volte des Anges r, in 1914, however, there is a passage which cuts far 
more deeply. It occurs in the paganistic Discours sur Vhistoire universelle of the 
fallen angel Nectaire-Aleciel, who surveys the fate of men with tender and 
pitying sympathy. The sketch of Napoleon, in its pregnant brevity, and for all its 
almost insolent one-sidedness, is wonderfully stimulating to the historical 

What made him so eminently fit to dominate was that he lived entirely in the 
present moment and had no conception of anything except immediate and instant 
reality. His genius was vast and shallow; his intellect, immense in extent but 

1, See p. 283 above - ‘in the very forms of the language \ 



common and vulgar, embraced humanity without rising above it. He thought 
what was thought by every grenadier of his army, but there was an incredible 
strength behind his thinking ... He was too clever not to use m his game old 
Jahveh, who was still a force in the affairs of tins earth and who was not unlike 
him in his violent and overbearing disposition. He threatened, flattered, caicssed, 
and intimidated him by turns. He imprisoned his vicar, whom he forced at the 
sword’s point to give him the oil which is supposed, ever since Saul, to make kings 
strong. He restored the cult of the Demiurge [this is Aleciel’s contemptuous 
description of Jahveh] chanted Te Dennis in his honour, and had himself recognized 
by him as God on earth, in little catechisms distributed all over the empire. So did 
they join their thunders, and the noise was somethmg wondeiiul. 1 


But let me stick to the historians. I have already opposed the University to the 
Academie . As a matter of fact, among the admirers the Uni vet site had a bad reputa- 
tion. We have noticed that after the lawyers and journalists and men of letters, 
Masson mentioned the professors as a third group of haters of Napoleon. Driault, 
who was in a position to know, declared that the Universite fostered a tradition 
of anti-Napoleonic doctrines (see pp. 165, 309). 

From the elementary school to the university [he adds] the teachers of youth used 
their ingenuity to tear up the finest pages of our history; the bloc of national unity 
was smashed. It was a wicked enterprise, it was an attempt to mutilate us, like the 
efforts made to blot out of our imagination the image of the Rhine [of Alsace 
Lorraine, and of the revanche , of the Rhineland]. 3 

The past tense is connected with Driault’s conviction that the denigration of 
Napoleon had made room for a better and more patriotic understanding - an 
illusion, as we shall see. 

The historians of the Universite did not fail to bear witness to their convictions. 
They produced a strong uninterrupted stream of scholarly studies, of mono- 
graphs, and of textbooks. To avoid being overwhelmed by it, I shall limit myself 
to the more general works, and even there I shall have to make a choice. There 
is diversity of views in abundance, and yet there is striking agreement. The 
Napoleonic legend has no hold upon these authors from the Universite. Of a 
Napoleon cult there is no trace. Generally speaking, these works are weaned 
from nationalistic or authoritarian a priori reasoning, and in stating this I am 
thinking of the whole period from the beginning of the century to the Second 
World War. The First World War, which seemed to create the conditions for 

1. La Revolts des Anges, p. 249. 

2. Napoleon et V Europe, v, 421 (1927). 



a new efflorescence of tlie cult, and which indeed was responsible in 1921 for a 
considerable output of excited prose (of which we have had a sample on p. 3 12), 
scarcely made itself felt in this literature. The sanity of a solitary Driault may 
have been affected by it, but the Universite as a whole kept its balance. The 
historians do not dispose of Trinco as light-heartedly as Anatole France; but 
with every effort to evolve a positive appreciation of the Napoleonic episode, 
with all fine shades and distinctions, the opinion of the experts is not that of the 

The phenomenon will appear the more striking when after five universitaires 
- I am keeping a sixth for the conclusion - I place three acadimidens under the 
magnifying glass. With the latter (even with Hanotaux, whose opinion after 
all is very independent, so much so that one might look upon it as a transition 
to the outlook of the universitaires ) the tradition of Vandal and Sorel will still 
be found present in unimpaired vitality. 

And yet, is it right to speak of ‘the opinion of the experts’? I wish to safeguard 
myself against the misconception that in the case of the authors I am now gomg 
to discuss 1 had met with nothing but scholarly method and objectivity. The 
scholarliness of their method is certainly not something purely external; it dis- 
ciplines their mental attitude as well. But it would be foolish to overlook the 
fact that these authors come to Napoleon with their own, different a 
prioi i ideas ; that they measure him against standards of spiritual freedom, of 
culture, of humanity, of social progress; that politically they are as a rule of the 
left. With some of them anti-clericalism is predominant, with others liberalism 
or socialism. It is rare that upon close inspection one cannot fairly accurately 
‘place’ an author. 


I Alphonse Aulard 


Aulard , with whom I want to deal first, exercised great influence as an expert 
of the Revolution period, and founded a school. Appomtcd in 1 8 86 as the fi.M 
holder of a new chair in the History of the Revolution in the University of 
Paris, he produced in 1901, when he was over fifty, after many editions of sources 
and monographs, a great work of synthesis, Histoire politique de la Revolution 
ftan^aise. The leader of the new historical tendency which claimed to study and 
appraise events in an objective scientific way, ‘historically and not politically*, 1 
Aulard presented a conception which though based upon an impressive amount 
of factual material, strictly sifted and arranged, is in truth dominated by a rigid 
ideology, and that in a tyrannical manner. He follows the history of Bonapaite 
as far as the imperial coronation: this in his opinion brmgs the Revolution to a 
definitive end, a conception which already implies a judgement. Mignet went 
to 1815; Thiers saw in the solemnity at Notre Dame the coronation of the 
Revolution; while Quinet thought that it was its untimely conclusion. 2 In the 
eyes of Aulard, also, Napoleonis the man who arrested the Revolution, who even 
initiated a reaction towards the ancien regime , who abohshed liberty and en- 
croached upon equality. His chapters deahng with the Consulate give little else 
than the story of the derailment of the Revolution, of the gradual demolition 
of liberty, and the establishment of despotism. 

The brutality with which force was used on the 19th Brumaire, says Aulard, 
was unintentional; and at first Bonaparte seemed to make himself as inconspic- 
uous and innocent a figure as possible, in the hope of bemg forgiven. Public 
opinion indeed allowed itself to be reassured; but the means necessary to this 
end proved how little it desired what Bonaparte really was preparing. There 
were professions of undeviating republicanism, of immutable fidelity to the 
principles of the Revolution; the general put on civilian dress; his Minister of 
Police, Fouche, once more branded the dmigris. But the confidence gained in 

1. According to a French critic: cf. G. Kalff, De verklaring der Frame Revolutie bij 
haar voornaamste geschiedschrijvers (a thesis, 1920), p. 176. 

2. Carlyle, be it noted, thought the Revolution was finished by General Bonaparte’s 
‘whiff of grapeshot’ of 13 Vendemiaire (October 5th) I 795 j and with this concluded his 



tills way lie misused to press through a constitution which made him practically 
the sole master. The remark which I have already (p. 278) underlined in Driault’s 
textbook, about the plebiscite for the approval of the constitution being a mere 
make-believe, may have been taken from Aulard’s book, which was older by 
two years. The whole interpretation differs as sharply as is possible from Vandal’s 
spontaneous popular enthusiasm pushing automatically in the direction of a 
dictatorship. Aulard had carefully checked the registers of the votes, which, as 
we know, had been given publicly and in writing. Among the 1562 opponents, 
he points out a few well-known cx-Convetitionnels ; but such were also to be 
found among the three million who voted ‘yes’, apart from ‘almost the whole 
intellectual elite* of France. ‘These republicans thought they were voting for 
the Revolution and the Repubhc, against the monarchy and the ancien regime' 1 

The centralization of the law of 23 Pluviose is, according to Aulard, an instru- 
ment of despotism, and the criticism made against it in the Tribunate has his 
full sympathy. Nevertheless he recognizes that the law had good results at 
first, thanks to the ability and the genius of Bonaparte. ‘It was only httle by 
little that it became brutal and despotic, as the master himself was being trans- 
formed from a good into a bad despot/ 

The signs of this transformation are not long in appearing. At first there is 
no court. Busts of famous men adorn Bonaparte’s dwelling : Demosthenes as 
well as Alexander, Brutus as well as Caesar; Frederick the Great; but also Wash- 
ington, Mirabeau . . . The daily entourage of the new potentate consisted of men 
of the Revolution, liberals, intellectuals of the Institut. But after he had acquired 
the Consulate for life, the Consul began to live in princely style, and already then 
he was bent upon filling his court with the old nobility, the ‘rallied* royalists. 

The muzzling of the Press, the expulsion of the opposition from the Tribu- 
nate, the establishment of extraordinary tribunals and military commissions - 
all these steps towards despotism, which we already know, are given the fullest 
attention by Aulard. 

Of special mterest is his explanation of the popularity which Bonaparte was 
meanwhile gaining with the Parisian working class. The liberal opposition with 
winch the name of Mine de Stael is linked, full of abhorrence for that despotism 
to wdiich it had so naively opened the way by welcoming the coup d’etat, 2 an 
opposition of the salons and the legislative bodies, when it looked for support 
thought of the generals. For the generals (whom we involuntarily visualize in 
their later character as courtiers and marshals) were at that moment still good 
republicans. These liberals gave no thought to the labouring class, for it had 
averted its face from politics and the dictator had won its heart. Certainly not 
because he presented himself as ‘a kind of democratic Caesar ’.3 

1. p. 2. p. 761. 3 - P* 765. 



On the contrary. He always treated the working men as inferiors. By a law of 
Year XI and a decree of Year XII [1S03 and 1804] he placed them under police 
supervision, prescribed for them the possession of an identity book without which 
they were liable to arrest as vagabonds, once more prohibited unions and strikes 
on pain of imprisonment, and charged the Prefect of Police with the settlement of 
wage disputes. It was a relapse into the ancicn regime when the Code Napoleon laid 
down that in such disputes the word of the employers was to be taken. The plebiscite 
might be the foundation of a new regime, but here as in other cases Bonaparte gave 
evidence of an inclination to destroy equality and to divide French society into a 
politically and socially privileged bourgeois class and a subordinate plebeian class. 

But the labourers made no complaint. They did not even notice the contra- 
diction of the principles of 1789. 

Their love for Bonaparte was aroused and maintained by means of material and 
moral benefits. 

The former resulted from the care taken by the First Consul to have Paris well 
provided with food, and at a low price ; for this purpose bakers and butchers were 
placed under control. Industry revived, there was work, and wages rose ; later 
conscription sent them up even faster. As regards the moral benefits (‘illusory, 
I should perhaps have said’, adds the author, who has no liking for chauvinism), 

Bonaparte acquired dazzling martial glory for France, and the Parisian working 
man’s patriotism had taken on a markedly chauvinistic hue. He was at the same 
time passionately anti-royalist and saluted in Bonaparte the leader of the Revolu- 
tion, the beneficent dictator predicted and invoked by Marat, the protector of the 
new France against the Bourbons. 

We have heard little as yet about the working class. Aulard quotes from police 
reports to show how they remained deaf to all incitements on the part of the 
liberals, and allowed themselves in every circumstance to be carried away by 
Bonaparte’s propaganda; against the conspirators, against the British, and 
finally for the Empire and the hereditary principle. 

Aulard’s conclusion is of importance for the right understanding of the history 
of the whole nineteenth century in France. 

This meek and complete subjection of the Parisian working men to a master 
condemned the republican bourgeoisie to impotence, their opposition became 
nothing more than a childish/ronde de salon . It is from that moment that the breach 
between the liberals and the people dates; for long years democracy and universal 
suffrage were to appear incompatible with liberty. 

R — N.F.A. — L 




No less important is Aulard’s treatment of the ecclesiastical question. That his 
point of view is diametrically opposed to that of Vandal will be understood be- 
forehand. But he also differs considerably from d’Haussonville. No doubt he 
considers, as does the latter, that the regime of separation of Church and State, 
as Bonaparte found it, might and should have been preserved. But d’Hausson- 
ville wanted this because only under that regime could religion and the Church 
really prosper, while Aulard considered it desirable because it prevented the 
Church from growing strong and from becoming a menace to State and society 
as they had been shaped by the Revolution. In Ins interpretation we recapture 
more exactly t han in Quinet the spirit of the atheist intellectuals of the Institut 
and of the Council of State (where there was laughter at the more ‘mystical’ 
passages when the First Consul read the Concordat). 

What was the situation of religion? Like Vandal, Aulard draws attention to 
the existing division: there was the former ‘consitutional’ Church, winch most 
certainly did not muster the majority of the faithful, but which nevertheless - 
by the quality of its priests, among other things - was still a power. Then there 
was the former rifractaire Church, recently subdivided into the rallies (who had 
given ‘the promise’) and the royalists. There were also the Protestants and the 
Jews, and finally the freethinkers and rationalists, among whom the cult of 
theo-philanthropy still subsisted. Already in ‘the reaction following upon 
Marengo’ the police were instructed no longer to protect them, while after an 
iconoclastic attack on a theo-pliilanthropic church ‘probably carried out by 
Catholics’ the cult was suppressed by a decree of 4 October 1801, even before 
the Concordat became operative. Fashion, says Aulard, no longer favoured free 
thought, but it was not the religiously-inclined souls like Chateaubriand and 
his admirers who wanted the altars of other confessions to be overthrown. ‘It 
was only to the intransigent group of papist priests that the regime of separation 
seemed intolerable.’ The author himself frankly calls the division among the 
Catholics an advantage. The Catholic Church was ‘the most formidable power 
of the past against which the Revolution had to struggle’, and now that the 
Revolution had succeeded in breaking it into three groups, the State (with 
secularized education) was secularized, free, and the master. 

How was it that Bonaparte came to give up a regime so favourable to the 
State? It was not because there existed in public opinion an irresistible current 
in favour of a Concordat. On the contrary, had there been a free Press an almost 
universal opposition to the idea would have come to light. In the course of the 
long negotiations, the Press was forbidden to discuss religious questions of any 



kind. Nor was it because liis own religious sentiment moved him in that direc- 
tion. To prove that Napoleon lacked religious feeling, Aulard quotes the well 
known pronouncements: 

For my part, I do not see in religion the mystery of transubstantiation but the 
mystery of social order. 

Society cannot exist without inequality of property, an inequality which cannot 
be maintained without religion ... It must be possible to tell the poor: ‘ It is God’s 
will. There must be rich and poor in this world, but hereafter and for all eternity 
there will be a different distribution.’ 

Bonaparte’s motives, then, were of a political nature. He wanted to dominate 
consciences through the Pope, and thus to realize Inis dreams of world domina- 
tion. He also wanted to get rid of the Church of the former constitutionels, among 
whom the democratic tendency was too strong for his taste - he was especially 
suspicious of the elections which the Constitution civile had introduced. Also he 
wanted to deprive Louis XVIII of his last means of influencing French public 
opinion, and he wanted to pacify the Vendee. 

Are we to believe, as d’Haussonville wants us to, that the Concordat brought 
no advantages to the Church? It restored the Church, even though this was not 
formally expressed, practically to the position of State Church. It healed the 
schism which had paralysed the Church’s power to weigh upon the State and 
society. It provided the Church with considerable financial advantages, which 
the Consul-Emperor amply supplemented. In the sphere of education, too, 
as we already know, Napoleon went beyond the stipulations of the Concordat. 
In 1808 he did away with the secular principle and laid down ‘the principles of 
the Catholic religion* as the basis of his newly founded University. All this went 
against the spirit of the intellectuals and high officials, who after the coup d’etat 
of 1799 had been his principal collaborators. But all such opposition he pushed 
impatiently aside as coming from ‘ideologists’. It is significant that in 1803 he 
dissolved the class of ‘moral and political sciences’ at the Institut in order to de- 
prive such opposition of a centre. And yet in the end his ecclesiastical policy 
proved a deception. After having immensely strengthened the Church’s power 
in French society by his policy, he did not find it the willing tool he had imagined. 

Viewing the whole work of demolition and reaction more or less consciously 
performed by Bonaparte [says Aulard in conclusion to this chapter] one sees the 
Concordat stand out as the counter-revolutionary act par excellence .* 

1 . p. 747- 

2 A. L. Guerard 

At first sight one might ignore this author as not being typical. Guerard was a 
Frenchman, hut he was half anglicized, wrote in English, and was professor at 
an American university. But the chapter ‘Napoleon' in his French Civilization 
in the Nineteenth Century 1 is in its conciseness an excellent summary of what I 
may call the opposition point of view. It is sober in the good sense of the word, 
that is to say not clouded by romanticism or propaganda and advertisement, 
but penetrated with respect for humanistic and cultural values. 

All the motifs already known to us - the love of war, the pride and exclusive 
faith in force, the spiritual compulsion through Concordat, Universite and Press 
censorship, the undermining of independence by an excess of bureaucratic 
centralization, the reactionary tendencies in legislation and social reconstruction, 
the vulgar display and undignified snobbery in the improvised court - find their 
place in this sketch. And yet the picture is not, as are those of Lanfrey and of Taine, 
devoid of light. Guerard acknowledges that there is something beautiful in the 
first idea of the Consulate and in the constructive work then undertaken, though 
he sees at the same time the dangers threatening the whole venture. 

Bonaparte’s ambition knew no internal check: he had no scruples, a limited 
culture, and boundless contempt for ‘ideology’ and for ‘imponderable’ forces. 

Nevertheless he ends with the remark that the character of the imperial period, 
as seen from the point of view of the historian of culture, is more complex than 
is generally assumed. Through the oppressive imitation classicism, there appear 
signs of a liberating aspiration after a new and higher existence. In this young 
romanticism the new Caesar is also a factor, ‘in spite of his Italian ancestry, his 
classical features, his Roman aspirations, and the practical character of much of 
his work'. 

The contrasts and dangers of his adventurous career; his constant hankerings after 
the elusive and gorgeous East ; his fatalism and superstition ; the gloom and isolation 
of omnipotence: all these were either the signs or the causes of a romantic turn of 
mind. And this would find expression in his love for Ossian, or better, in sudden 
outbursts of unacademic eloquence which give him a brilliant place in French 

i. A. L. Guerard, * Agrege de V Universite*. The book discussed was published in 
Britain in 1914. 


3 G. Pariset 

In the great history of France under the direction of Ernest Lavisse, one of those 
collective works which had become fashionable in liistoriography, there ap- 
peared in 1921 (as the third of the ten copious volumes in which contemporary 
history beginning with 1789 is surveyed) the volume of G. Panset on Consulate 
and Empire. It is a textbook of high quality, sane, sober, and clear but by no 
means impersonal. It unhesitatingly presents an original conception. Let me 
illustrate the nature of this with a few of its main points. 

foreign policy 

Bonaparte’s victory at Marengo and that of Moreau near Hohenlinden led to 
the peace of Luneville. Hohenlinden formed an indispensable element in this 
situation, and to that extent Bonaparte rejoiced at it, but the fact that it was 
Moreau’s victory irked him: ‘He could not forgive victorious generals.’ 1 Any- 
how, it was peace, and the joy that reigned in France was indescribable. Some 
people, however, were already afraid that the First Consul would use his success 
to expand his own power and to undertake new adventures. But even the most 
timid admonition in the Tribunate was apt to anger Bonaparte, and it is therefore 
difficult to find out how widespread this concern may have been. 

This much is certain, that France was profoundly and decidedly pacific; never was 
she less militaristically inclined than immediately after his greatest successes in the 

No doubt men take pride in the glorious character of the peace. 

But the destinies of Holland, Switzerland, Italy, the German princes, touch the 
nation only indirectly. It is satisfied, now that the safety of France, for ever firmly 
established within her natural frontiers, is no longer threatened. It remains in- 
different to Bonaparte’s distant combinations. The nation was even more fatigued 
than in the days of the Directorate. It imagined that the object had now been 
attained, its object. But the man who was already the sole master of its foreign 
policy had no object, or at least he was continually shifting it, and further away 
every time. 3 

I. p. 51. 2. p. 55. 



We have already learned that Pariset rejects the thesis of Sorel; that he looks 
at Bonaparte’s personal policy for the source of the wars ; and that he does not see 
this policy in the way Driault sees it, as an attempt to realize a grandiose but 
definite plan, but that like Muret he sees it as the effect of a particular mental 


I continue to glance through his pages. There is the pacification of the West, 
of the Vendee. As Pariset sees it, General Hedouville, who had been sent there 
by the Directorate, was already working ably at this pacification and with a 
good chance of success. Then Bonaparte comes to power, and his ‘strong 
manner* takes the place of the ‘prudent and skilful manner’ of Hedouville. He 
intervenes roughly. The execution ofFrotte, leader of the Chouans, who thought 
he had surrendered upon terms, may not have taken place upon the explicit 
order of the First Consul. Bonaparte, in any case, now had what he wanted, ‘a 
deed of sensational severity*: ‘disloyally, uselessly, and too late*. 1 This view of 
the incident, by the way, has no originality; I might have pointed to it before, 
in Lanfirey or in Aulard. But of course another interpretation is current as well. 

Let us once more refer to Vandal. It is an instructive comparison, because 
the presentation of the facts is practically the same, and the divergence arises 
altogether from the mental attitude adopted towards them. Vandal does not 
deny that the execution of Frotte was a treacherous act, nor that it cannot be 
entirely cleared up, but he exerts himself to show the probability that the First 
Consul had absolutely no hand in it and that as he put it himself ‘he had been 
deceived in this affair*. 58 Nor does Vandal attempt to hide Bonaparte’s immediate 
conviction that peace could only be restored by an impressive example. He in- 
troduces his account with the remark that Hedouville acted in a ‘conciliatory’, 
perhaps too conciliatory manner. And how sympathetically does he deal with 
Bonaparte’s ‘strong manner’ ! ‘The system of Bonaparte is always to make in- 
dividual examples, and to make them frightful, while he rallies the masses with 
a generous gesture of pardon.’* In any case ‘he wanted to destroy the remainder 
of the rebellion in such a way that the noise of destruction would resound within 
and beyond France*. But when further on he discusses the question of respon- 
sibility, Vandal fails to recall this.* 

Pariset sees this deed of violence in connexion with so many others, and he 
detects a system. One reproaches the Directorate, he says, with the measures of 

l. p. 59. 2. Vavlnement de Bonaparte, n, 143. 3. op. cit. I, 488 £f. 

4. Lanfirey is naturally convinced that Bonaparte was personally responsible for the 
condemnation ofFrotte; 11, 79. 


proscription after Fructidor, and one talks about la tetreur Jiuctidoricnne ; one 
might equally talk about la terrear const ilaiie.* What Pariset has particularly in 
mind are the special tribunals which the First Consul Insisted on establishing, 
against strong opposition from the Tribunate and the Legislative Body, in order 
to suppress resistance in disturbed departments . This institution did not disappear 
with the occasion that had brought it about. It was even extended, and continued 
to exist throughout the Consulate and the Empire. 

As regards the case of the proscription after the attempt until the infernal 
machine, Pariset considers that the readiness of the public to believe in the guilt 
of the Jacobins is proof of the efficacy of Bonaparte’s propaganda, which in- 
variably aimed at making them out the wickedest malefactors imaginable while 
at the same time trying to tar the republicans with the same brush. ‘Do you 
want me to deliver you up to the Jacobins?’ is the saying which in Bonaparte’s 
mouth must excuse all his arbitrary acts. I recall the fact that Mme de Stael had 
already observed that the Jacobins served as bogy-men to Bonaparte. 

The ever-increasing restrictions on spiritual freedom, the cunning with which, 
little by little, to avoid giving too much offence to Revolutionary ideology, a 
new nobility was mtroduced between 1806 and 1808, the stifling centralization, 
all tliis and much more could be discussed to show the emphasis Pariset places 
upon all that is not only oppressive and harsh but also systematically anti- 
liberal and hostile to freedom, in the Napoleonic regime. Let me merely add 
something about the way in which he deals with the Code. 

We have already heard so much of the Code, in particular from Driault, that it 
will not come amiss to point out that on this subject too the most divergent 
opinions have been expressed, both about the share of Bonaparte in the compo- 
sition of the great work and about its tendency and contents. 

This time I wish to go back even further than Vandal, and look once more 
at the work of Thiers. From him we hear a paean of praise. The Code itself is 
unsurpassed and could not be bettered. The work of able lawyers, ‘led by a 
chief who might be a military man, but who was a superior mind and knew 
how to cut short their hesitations and to keep them at their work’, it came to 
be a fine compendium of French law, cleansed of all feudal elements. 

The very bad reception given the first proj ect by the Tribunate excites nothing 
but contempt and mockery in Thiers. 2 These revolutionary dogmatists wanted 
to legislate as though for an entirely new country; these heroes of the letter, 
enamoured of new-fangled and original conceptions, imagined that they could 
1. p. 77. 2. 1, 327 ff. 



teach a lesson to the lawyers. In reality, the spokesman of the Council of State, 
Portalis, was right when he argued that the old law could not he set aside, that 
it must be codified and at the same time adapted to the new conceptions and to 
the circumstances which arose from the Revolution. ‘It was impossible 9 , is 
Thiers’s opinion, ‘ to do it otherwise or to do it better. 9 Certainly in this extensive 
work a word might be replaced by a better one here and there, a pastime of 
which assemblies are fond; but let ‘these violent and ill-trained tribunes 9 loose 
upon these thousands of articles? It would soon sicken one of the whole job. 

As regards the role of Bonaparte, it was the admiration with which it inspired 
Thiers that led him to write the passage already quoted (p. 57) about Bonaparte’s 
glorious appearance at the beginning of his rule. 

The First Consul, who attended each of the sittings devoted to this subject by the 
Council of State, displayed in his conduct from the chair a method, a lucidity, and 
frequently a depth of insight which were a surprise to everybody. Accustomed as 
he was to direct armies and to govern conquered provinces, there was nothing 
strange in it when he revealed himself as an administrator . . . But the fact that he 
possessed the quality of a legislator was a matter for astonishment. 1 

He had prepared himself by asking his fellow Consul, Cambaceres, for a few 
books on law, and 

he had devoured them as he had done those books on religious controversy when 
he was occupying himself with the Concordat. Soon ordering in his head the 
general principles of civil law, and adding to these few rapidly collected notions 
his profound knowledge of the human race and his perfect clarity of mind, he 
proved himself able to direct those important labours and even to contribute to 
the discussion a good many sensible, new, and profound ideas. At times his imperfect 
knowledge of these matters led him to sustain somewhat peculiar ideas, but he soon 
allowed himself to be guided back on to the right track by the learned gentlemen 
who surrounded him. When the moment came to draw from the conflict of 
opposing opinions the most natural and the most reasonable conclusions, he was 
the master of them all. 

On both these points, of the opposition of the Tribunate and of Bonaparte’s 
share in the preparation, the views one gathers from Pariset are different indeed. 

The tribunes said, and not without reason, that the drafts were ill-digested and 
insufficiently considered, and that it was necessary to revise them; but above all 
they said, and proved, that these drafts meant a retrogression compared with the 
laws of the Revolution, which were sacrificed to the conceptions of the ancien 

And this is his unenthusiastic comment on Bonaparte: 

1. Thiers, i, 317a. 



He presided over numerous sittings, and took part in the debates with passion. His 
mind ever alert, keen, and animated, he expounded his ideas on la mort civile » 
women, the family, divorce, adoption, illegitimacy, and all possible matters.* 

And that is all. 

His praise for the Code itself is in a much lower key, too. It had the pretension, 
says Pariset, to immobilize society, or at least to fix it for a very long time; but 
in reality it reflected the conditions of a transitional period, and with them it 
soon became out of date. Nevertheless he docs not deny that it had great merit. 
He too finds in it the fusion established between traditional law and the new 
conceptions. ‘It has secured some of the essential rights of the Revolution.’ But 
the makers of the Code - Cambaceres, for instance - had in the course of ten 
years achieved greatness and wealth, and their ideals, which used to be dynamic 
in the revolutionary period, had become static. The Revolution was over. There 
were still people without property, but the Code was not made for them. The 
articles which concerned them were few in number, and never remarkable for 
good will. ‘The Code safeguards civil equality and civil liberty; in so far as it is 
democratic/ But it has also an undemocratic side : ‘It is the Code of the propertied 

Clarity of division and of style is a great merit of the work. Harsh and in- 
complete though this old conception may appear to us, in the Western Europe 
of the early nineteenth century it meant an immense progress. One need only 
compare it with the Prussian Land Laws of 1794- Hence the significance which 
it was able to acquire in conquered territories. Thus Pariset. 

We find here the expression of views which half a century after Thiers had 
become common property. This is apparent when they are found also in an 
author who is so far removed from Pariset as is Vandal. 

A compromise between new law and old, between customary and written law, 
between the ‘philosophical’ and the legal mind, the Code occasionally sacrificed 
what was good in either system in order the more easily to combine the two. In 
some places it may make too large concessions to the spirit of the Revolution, in 
others it reacted against it too strongly. Nevertheless, in spite of its imperfections 
and lacunae, it contained the greatest sum of natural and rational equity which men 
had thus far found it possible to collect in their laws ... It does not create; it 
registers, fixes, and stabilizes progress. Red hot matter takes on in the Code firm 
and indelible shape; through it, in that respect, the Revolution becomes bronze 
and granite. 

Essentially democratic, Vandal says in another passage, it was yet in many points 
bourgeois. This is exactly the view of Pariset. 

1. p. 16 5. 



At the same time it will have been noticed that Vandal, with all his reserva- 
tions, keeps intact the admiration by which the whole of his book lives; and so, 
too, his judgement about the share of Bonaparte is different. (With his respect 
for results and his contempt for babblers, he does not even mention the opposi- 
tion in the Tribunate.) 

He notices first of all that Cambaceris was much more conservative than 
Bonaparte. Whereupon he says: 

Taking it all together it was the great lawyers who did it, but they would not have 
done it without Bonaparte, who put them in a position to complete the work. It 
was he who inspired their labours, got them going, kept them on the move, and 
led them to the goal. The result was permeated with the spirit which he had im- 
posed on his period, that is to say, with the idea of a fusion between different 
systems and with the determination to come together. 

The reader will have recognized Vandal in my quotations: the general trend 
of ideas of his work reveals itself in all its parts, and his stylistic power suggests 
connexions inspired by a deeper insight. Personally I cannot help being struck 
by a contradiction, not to say a trace of insincerity, in his conclusion about the 
Code after the apparently generous concessions to criticism. On the other hand, 
Iris judgement about the contribution made by Bonaparte, although perhaps 
more suo a trifle embellished, appears to me fairer than the somewhat excessively 
grudging presentation of Pariset. 

4 Jules Isaac 


The school-book by Driault which I discussed in a former chapter was part of 
a Corns complet dhistoire composed ‘in conformity with the programme of 31 
May 1902’ for the upper forms (les classes de premiere). I have before me a section 
of this Cours complet , composed ‘in conformity with the official programmes of 
3 June 1925’ ; it is dated 1929. The author is Jules Isaac, * professeur agrige dhistoire 
an Lycie St Louis*. I will do no more than glance at a few passages to show that 
in its treatment of the figure and rule of Napoleon it is no milder than its pre- 
decessor, the book of Driault, so that it provides the best refutation of the later 
Driault ’s assertion (see p. 317) that French schoolboys no longer had the finest 
pages of the history of France mutilated by bad patriots. 

The story of the machine infemale and its aftermath is told with a fair amount 
of detail. 

Bonaparte made use of the opportunity to rid himself of the republicans ... He 
paid little attention to the legal guarantees of individual freedom. It was like a 
revival of the revolutionary terror and of the monarchical raison d’Ltat. 

An illustration shows a print of the period in which a ragged fierce Jacobin 
lights the fuse that leads to a small barrel containing powder and shot. One can 
see from this, says the caption, that the government misled the public into be- 
lieving that the attempt was a Jacobin plot. 1 
Napoleon and intellectual life; education. 

Napoleon’s only care was to have obedient subjects, and men efficient in their 
professions. He did not perceive in the slightest degree that intellectual life feeds on 
liberty, and at times he let this appear in the naivest fashion: ‘People complain that 
we have no literature; that is the fault of the Minister of the Interior.’ 2 

From the small chapter about the Council of 1811 , 1 need quote only the title: 
‘Religious Persecution.’ Thiers would altogether fail to understand that matters 
could be presented in this way in a republican school. As for Masson, he would 
roar that one must indeed be a ‘professeur* and a Jew to vomit such slander 
against the great Emperor. A few of Napoleon’s coarsest letters, with orders 
concerning the treatment of the Pope in his prison, are given among the ‘texts’. 
1. p. 264 ffi 2. p. 287. 



Napoleon’s foreign policy; his responsibility for tbe wars. The diesis of Sorel 
is expounded, as well as its refutation. It is apparent that the author agrees with 
the critics, and it is in this spirit that the ensuing account of events is told. I merely 
note the negotiations of 1813, about which Isaac remarks that Napoleon thought 
of war more than of peace, and that the powers had not for one moment con- 
templated depriving France of her ‘natural frontiers’. Driault is quoted here - 
but which Driault? Not the one who wrote Napoleon et V Europe, Volume V, 
but the Driault of twenty years before, of the article in the Revue d’histotre 
tnoderne et contemporaine. Driault’s shade might indeed sigh 

The evil that men do lives after them, 

The good is oft interred with their bones. . . . 

One final remark before I pass to another author, which is that these school- 
books, that of 1903 as well as that of 1929, give one a remarkably favourable 
impression of the standard of French historical teaching. It is particularly the 
courageous introduction of pupils to the discussion of historical problems that 
appears to me worthy of admiration. 

5 Charles Seignobos 

The pages - not more than half a score - devoted by Seignobos to Napoleon’s 
rule in his Histoire sincere de la Nation fran$aisc are characteristic. Seignobos wrote 
this pleasing little book towards the end of his life, about 1930. He was a univer- 
sity professor in Paris, and had made a name for himself by his dry but able and 
independent history of civilization, and by his excellent volume about the period 
of Napoleon III in Lavisse’s Histoire de la France contemporaine. ‘Dry* is also the 
epithet one might apply to his Histoire sincere; it lacks every flight of imagina- 
tion, and has neither colour nor warmth of style. Yet it is not the word which 
occurs to one in the presence of a work so unpretentious, in which a man with 
extensive knowledge and who has reflected much indicates the connexions and 
consequences winch in the course of his study have gradually impressed them- 
selves upon him as the essentials, a man, moreover, who without any straining 
for effect always calls things by their names. 

It will appear in a moment that he starts from a definite philosophy of life, 
and also that judged by this philosophy Napoleon does not cut an advantageous 
figure. Even before introducing him upon the stage, Seignobos wonders 
whether the chaos in public life and in finances which is alleged to have existed 
in France under the Directorate has not, like the licentiousness, ‘been exag- 
gerated in order to enhance the importance of Bonaparte’s work of reorgani- 
zation ’ 1 As regards the administrative system - which, though it was introduced 
under the Consulate, cannot be considered as Bonaparte’s work, because 
in those early days he had to leave such measures to the experts - Seignobos 
concludes his description with these words : 

A centralized system of government agents, opposed to the regime of elective self- 
government created by the Revolution. The nation had no longer any share in the 
conduct of its affairs or in the choice of its local leaders. The French ceased to be 
citizens, to become once more subjects, no longer of the king, but of the govern- 

Inliis remarks about the Concordat we recognize the ideaof Driault , 2 Bonaparte 

1. p. 381. 

a. See p. 310 £f. above; Seignobos, Histoire sincere , p. 387. 



created the conditions which must make the French clergy ultramontane, 
although he wished to preserve its Gallicanism. 

What, according to Seignobos, is there about Napoleon which explains the 
admiration, the enthusiasm, of so many adherents? It cannot be expressed more 

His marvellous activity, his astonishing quickness of decision, his incredible 
memory for detail, the sureness of his practical judgement. 

And what of the other side of the account? 

His despotic nature tolerated no activity independent of his own. He abhorred the 
liberals, whom he called the ideologists. He had no conception of disinterested 
devotion to a cause, and ascribed all actions to self-interest or to vanity . . . Educated 
in Corsica before that country had been merged into a unified France, Napoleon 
never managed to feel a real Frenchman. 

In support of this conception, which has by now become so well known to us, 
Seignobos adduces an argument that is novel. *1 wish’, Napoleon wrote in his 
testament, ‘that my ashes may rest on the banks of the Seine, amidst that French 
nation winch I have loved so much.’ 

‘It would have occurred to no Frenchman to express himself like that’, says 
Seignobos. And the remark is strikingly true. Yet, as everyone knows, the sen- 
tence is inscribed on the wall of the crypt of the Invalides, and it has never failed 
to move the French. 

His method of government [Seignobos continues] did not dovetail into French 
tradition. In his native island he had learned to know only clan solidarity, and this 
is why in France and elsewhere he failed to recognize the strength of national 

Restrained by no inner moral curb, he went on to the point where his power met 
with an insurmountable obstacle. 

Armed force was the real basis of his domination, which was bound to collapse, 
when, one after another, his armies had been used up. 

In the upshot, France retained nothing of his military achievements, and moreover 
she lost the conquests of the Republic. In Europe a profound distrust of the French 
remained; they were looked upon as a people fond of war, while France was left 
with the Napoleonic legend, which was a disturber of domestic peace and which in 
the end landed the nation in an adventurist foreign policy. 

At the end of his small book, the author reverts to this idea and says that in 
the period behind us the misconception of a bellicose and fickle France, based 
on the wars of Louis XIV and of the two Napoleons and upon the Paris revolu- 
tions of the nineteenth century, is beginning to fade out in foreign countries. 



‘Tlie French nation is beginning to be seen in its true nature as sensible, reason- 
able and peace-loving .’ 1 

I doubt whether the French nation is more intelligent, more reasonable, and 
more peaceful than another. I should certainly not care to call it more bellicose 
or more fickle, but it has had its unintelligent unreasonable periods, when it v. as 
a worry to its neighbours. It was, to keep to our subject, a most willing tool in 
the hands of Napoleon, and after his death a credulous dupe of the legend. The 
thought which it repays our trouble to meditate, in tins conclusion by Seignobo s, 
seems to me to be that in the course of history a nation can assume many vet y 
different aspects. 


I shall now, after the five universitahes, deal with three academicism. The example 
of Anatole France has already proved that one can belong to the Academy without 
rating Napoleon particularly high. About Hanotaux, the third of the trio now 
under survey, it will soon be noticed that his admiration is by no means un- 
mixed. To be sure, he strikes a different note from that of the universitahes , and 
one seems to feel that he has been in closer communion with Vandal and Sorcl 
than they. Nevertheless, the true outlook of the Academie will be found rather 
in Bainville, and especially in Madelin, and I have therefore deemed it appro- 
priate to deviate here from the chronological order and to deal with the work 
of Hanotaux after that of the other two. My last author, George Lefebvre, an 
unmistakable universttaire but who has absorbed much of the other conception, 
fits in too well with Hanotaux for me to part them from one another, 
i. p. 491. 


6 Jacques Bainville 

Bainville’ s Napoleon, of 1931, is probably the most read biography of 
Napoleon in our time. If only for a moment, the book confronts us with a 
difficulty which we have usually been spared. Ought we to classify the author 
as for or aganistl I have already mentioned him, in passing, among the admirers 
who achieved access to the Acadeinie; but when one reads m his conclusion that 
‘apart from glory, apart 60m art’ it would probably have been better if Napo- 
leon had never lived, 1 one would be inclined to assume that we are dealing with 
one of the critics. The book, however, constantly strikes another note. By what- 
ever point among those which usually give rise to disapproval we test it - the 
wars, centralization, terroristic methods, lack of spiritual freedom, the attempt 
to subject the Church - we shall meet either with apology or with complete 
indifference. But this negative test is not the only one we can apply. The whole 
book, leaving on one side approval or disapproval of political trends, is pervaded 
with admiration for the central figure. The greatness, the beauty of this figure, 
the satisfaction it gives to the spectator’s ‘artistic’ sense, that is what gives Bain- 
ville’s biography its positive content. Lanfrey and Quinet would have rejected 
the book with horror. 

And indeed, the author was no Bonapartist; but he also was not in the least 
a liberal. He was a royalist. His leader was Maurras, who counts Barres among 
his spiritual precursors, although the French tradition from which the Action 
frangaise , like Barres, wanted to extract all its strength was more exclusively 
attached to the old royalty. In consequence it was bound to reject Napoleon, 
in so far as it had to look upon him as an interruption or a deviation. But being 
little inclined to place emphasis upon moralnorms in judging political or historical 
phenomena - and also since the slogans of spiritual freedom or justice meant 
less to it than those of Fatherland, power, order - it felt no qualm in surren- 
dering to a foible for the strong man, for the great personality. Houssaye, 
Masson, or Driault would not have been satisfied with Bainville’s book; but 
the dominant impression which the reader receives from it is undeniably such 
as to range it under the heading For. 

The Action frangaise was too extreme audits solution for all the ills of France, 

1. p. 581. 


Le Roi , too unreal for It to influence practical politics otherwise than by spreading 
suspicion and by bringing about public disorder. Nevertheless it struck chords 
in certain French prejudices and moods, and was thus able to nurture a state of 
mind far beyond its own small circle. For this purpose Bainville, popular author 
of great intellectual and stylistic gifts, was (next to Maurras) a force of consider- 
able significance. Before Napoleon he had captured an immense following with 
his brief Histoire de France. Afterwards, when his Napoleon had opened the doors 
of the Academic for him, in 1935 shortly before his death there also appeared Ills 
history of La ti oisieme Repuhlique. This little book is of importance for our better 
knowledge of the author’s mind. In his Histoire de Frame he had managed to deal 
with the Dreyfus affair without letting a word escape him about guilt or inno- 
cence. The chapter La Revolution Drcyfusienne in the latest book is less discreet. 
For those acquainted with the details of l’ Affaire it makes amazing reading. The 
guilt of the Jewnsh officer is implied with the help of tendentious or half true 
statements, suppressions, distortions of the motives of the defenders; all this 
directly against the evidence of the facts wiiich led in 1900 to the annulment of 
the sentence, strengthened as that evidence had been by the subsequently pub- 
lished testimony of the German military attache Schwarzkoppen. As one reads 
the chapter one wonders - can this man be honest? But it is possible to put it less 
bluntly and perhaps more truly. Bainville, like Barres (I have already - p. 145 - 
quoted the words in connexion with the latter), belonged to those for whom 
‘objective truth’ means less than their own ‘organic, inherited, passionate 
truth*. We must not forget it when reading his Napoleon. 


Bainville’s Napoleon has tragic grandeur. The element of tragedy arises from 
the conception of a man with unflincliing energy and with unequalled talent 
struggling with an impossible task, a task beyond human and even beyond his 
capacity. Apparent success, dazzling even, but unsound and in the final account 
of no value whatever, accompanies him for many years in all his expeditions 
and enterprises, and heightens the effect of a cruel game which divine powers 
are playing on him. He must go on; he must struggle, he vanquishes and con- 
quers, he subjects and cows, but throughout the spectator knows that the catas- 
trophe is drawing nearer and he himself, for all his display of assurance and pride, 
unflagging in the performance of his incredible deeds, in his ingenious com- 
binations to keep ahead of fate, he too is haunted by the fear that it is in vain and 
that it will all end in ruin. 

From beginning to end the book is more a discussion supported and illustrated 
by particulars and quotations than a narrative built up from description and 



disquisition. What the author wishes all the time to convey is the brittleness of 
Napoleon’s position, its uncommon and excessive quality, which dooms it to 
perpetual restlessness and causes it in the long run to be untenable. 

It begins immediately after Brumaire. It should not be thought, says Bainville, 
with emphasis, that Bonaparte was now the master. Much patient labour, much 
management and wiliness were still necessary to achieve that consummation. 
When he is away on his campaign of Marengo, everything is at once unsettled. 
Behind his back in Paris, vast intrigues are on foot to produce another govern- 
ment in case he is defeated. He is aware of it, and in the midst of his triumphant 
return he has moments of bitterness and fierce contempt for humanity. But the 
triumph is colossal, and it grows more colossal when the following year, after 
Hohenlinden, the peace for which everyone has been longing is secured. Bain- 
ville contemplates the Consulate with enthusiasm, and without a single one of 
the reservations of which we know. On the contrary, we find in his book the 
familiar reasoning (see p. 207 ff.) by which the authoritarian regime established 
by Bonaparte can be linked up with the Revolution, and the Revolution itself 
be shorn of its liberalism so as to cease being troublesome to a conservative 
realist, who would rather exclude the friends of liberty and republicans from 
French tradition. 

Had not the French of 1789 mistaken their desires? Was not what they really 
longed for - after equality, which came before everything - authority, rather than 
liberty? 1 

It is on the occasion of Bonaparte’s choice of Lebrun as one of his two colleagues 
in the Consulate that Bainville makes this remark. Tins choice, with that of 
Cambaceres (a man of the Convention and a regicide), was characteristic of his 
programme; for Lebrun, no longer a young man (in 1810, when he became 
Governor-General of Holland, he was over seventy), had been secretary to the 
Chancellor Maupeou, who in the reign of Louis XV had abolished the Parle - 
merits , those privileged courts of law which stood in the way of a reformist 
monarchy. If this ‘revolution’, as it was called at the time, had not been unmade 
under Louis XVI, if Louis XVI had had the courage and the vision to 
continue along the road of enlightened despotism, instead of restoring the 
privileged members of the noblesse de robe to a position in which they could sabo- 
tage all radical measures, then perhaps the Revolution of 1789 would not have 
taken place. Through Lebrun, Bonaparte established a link with the tradition 
of eighteenth-century enlightened despotism, a tradition by no means yet 
forgotten : for the ‘ideologists ’ from whom Bonaparte had not yet broken away, 
the intellectuals of the Institute were tired of the whims of the masses, were 
1. p. 158. 



drifting away from democracy and - like their master Voltaire, Bainville might 
have added - were advocates of enlightened despotism. 

So far the personality of the First Consul could not have been painted in more 
rosy colours; hut what deprived him of a solid foundation, according to Bain- 
ville, was the international situation. Peace! Everything depended upon it. 
Bonaparte was in the eyes of the French the giver of tills peace so ardently de- 
sired. He himself felt how much Ills popularity owed to tills. He wanted peace. 
For a moment he shared the illusion that Amiens was meant seriously. How 
otherwise could one explain those colonial enterprises: San Domingo; Louisi- 
ana, which he acquired from Spain hut which - this particularly is significant 
- he sold forthwith to the United States when the renewal of war appeared 
inevitable. War was inevitable, because Britain could not resign herself to 
France’s possession of Belgium, of Antwerp; while on the other hand France, 
though wanting peace, wanted it to be accompanied by tbe ‘natural frontiers’, 
and no one was less in a position to give up the ‘natural frontiers’, since it was 
precisely to Bonaparte’s good sword that men looked for their preservation. 

Connected with this is the sense of insecurity which never left Napoleon 
concerning his internal policy as well. His experience at the time of Marengo 
was never forgotten. Least of all did he trust the generals, until recently his 
equals. At first he treated them with extreme caution, notwithstanding the tone 
of authority he sometimes adopted; if he took the imperial title, it was not in 
order to place himself above them - the ceremonial at the court was intended 
for this purpose, and in particular the care with which the civilian character of 
his dignity was underlined. 

But even the imperial title was by no means sufficient. 

Never [Balzac has written] could Napoleon quite convince of his sovereignty 
those whom he had had as his superiors or his equals; nor those for whom law took 
the first place. Nobody considered himself bound by the oath taken to him. 

Napoleon himself declared at St Helena: 

I had risen from the masses too suddenly. I felt my isolation. So I kept throwing out 
anchors for my salvation into the depths of the sea. 

Anchors for bis salvation? This it was, more than ostentation, or pride, or megalo- 
mania: anchors for salvation. This was to be the function of those brother kings 
(only they performed it very poorly). An anchor for salvation, also, was the 
consecration by the Pope. He sought the semblance of legitimacy ; hut if he won 
the Catholics thereby, he knew very well how much he was once more hurting 
the feelings of the men of the Revolution (although by the killing of Enghien 
earlier in the year he had hoped to obtain an undeniable claim to their confidence). 



Hence tliose pinpricks, those insults, which he administered to the Pope during 
his sojourn; it was to restore the balance . . . x 

But the fatal menace comes from outside. 

Another ten years! [Bainville speculates, when discussing the elevation to the 
imperial dignity.] Hardly ten years have passed since he began to rise from ob- 
scurity, and in another ten years all will be finished. So it is decreed by the breath- 
less rhythm of his life’s destiny. A subaltern at twenty-five, he is, miracle of miracles, 
Emperor at thirty-five. Time has seized him by the shoulders and pushes him on. 
His days are counted. They will pass with the speed of a dream, marvellously full, 
broken by hardly any intervals or breathing space, as if impatient to reach the 
catastrophe more speedily, and charged at last with so many tremendous events, 
that his reigns, so brief in reality, will seem to have lasted a century. 2 

I give this quotation because it is characteristic; again and again Bainville 
inserts into his narrative passages like tills, reminding us that only nine, only 
eight, only seven years are left . . . England has time. But, ‘in London everything 
has already been calculated, everything is ordered, for the moment of Ills down- 
fall*. Those famous discussions of the Russian envoy, Novosiltsov, with Pitt 
(see p. 256 ff.) - Bainville does not even mention the name, and does not bother 
about negotiations or precise details - are woven into the narrative for the sake 
of effect: 

At a distance of nine years - for now only nine years are left, and since Senate and 
people elevated him to the imperial dignity, the brief respite allowed him by fate 
has shrunk once more - not only his defeat is foreseen, not only are the terms for 
France laid down, but the very method, this manoeuvre of gradual pressure, by 
which Napoleon will be compelled to abdicate, the whole of this policy has been 
traced beforehand, so that all that remains to be done in 1813 and 1814 will be the 
filling in of the outline of the sketch. 3 

The aim remains, as ever, to cheat France of her ‘natural frontiers*, but by now 
the psychology of the French nation has been grasped; the intention is no longer 
proclaimed, the fight is alleged to be against Napoleon and not against France, 
and all the cunning is directed towards creating misunderstandings over the 

It will be readily understood that in this interpretation Talleyrand’s conduct 
at Erfurt is condemned. Bainville insists less upon the treason than upon the mis- 
take. Talleyrand considered that he was doing a good work, even for Napoleon 
himself, by throwing obstacles in bis way that would compel him to remain 
within ‘the law of possibility*. As if Napoleon were free to remain moderate; 
as if, just as inside the country be was obliged to climb higher and higher in 

1. pp. 241, 245. 2. p. 239. 3. pp. 253 ff. 



order to make himself respected, he would not abroad have to go further and 
further for the sake of preserving these dear possessions of the French nation, the 
natural frontiers’! Talleyrand failed to realize the necessities of this unequal 
struggle with Britain, and the open or hidden determination of the powers to 
throw France back once more within her old frontiers. The game which he 
thought so clever was naive. As for Napoleon, he left Erfurt deceived and be- 
trayed, not quite clear in Ins mind as to what had happened to him, but still de- 
pressed, silent, and pensive. ‘These accursed Spanish affairs are costing me dear,’ 
he sighed. 1 2 And indeed, the Spanish mistake - Bainville does not deny that the 
Emperor had made an error by judging Spanish conditions and the Spanish 
people according to Ills eighteenth-century French notions, as what he aptly 
calls a genuine ‘ideologist’ 3 - this mistake had to be paid for very heavily. But 
it was not only that. Nobody has been betrayed so much and has punished 
so little, says Bainville. But why? ‘Not that he was vulnerable, but his position 

The expedition to Moscow, as we can already guess, was inevitable : Napoleon 
had no choice. But now his destiny is nearly accomplished. How loudly we now 
hear Bainville’s often repeated motif. ‘Everything I have accomplished is still 
very fragile,’ he confesses to Caulaincourt in the sledge. And at the same time, 
with what greatness he bears himself in the disaster ! The contempt which he 
feels more than ever for his ministers and for the Senate, because they hesitate; 
because they imagine that concessions can avert the disaster and make Britain 
give up its coveted prey, Belgium; because they believe, however shyly and 
half-heartedly, in this distinction which is being made between the Emperor 
and the country - Bainville clearly indicates that he thinks it is fully deserved. 4 

One would expect that Bainville’s royalism, in his treatment of the years 
1814 and 1815 if anywhere, would place him in opposition to Napoleon. In 
his Histoire de France this expectation is justified. There, Bainville praises the 
policy of Talleyrand and Louis XVIII, who managed to save so much from 
the debacle into which Napoleon had led the country. The disappointment of the 
public at the loss of the ‘natural frontiers’ avenged itself on them by the amazing 
turn of 1815. The great adventurist arrived from Elba without any hope of 
reigning without a new war, and made his last desperate bid; the result, after 
the Hundred Days, a new and worse disaster for France. 

All these events [Bainville wrote in 1924] have the colour of a novel, and their 
character is that of the human passions. They do not belong to the domain of 

1 . p. 357 ff. „ 

2. p. 333. Note the contrast with Tame’s conception of Napoleon, p. 128 above. 

3- P- 3<58. 

4* P- 469* 



reason. A three months’ folly brought back the foreigner in our country, and 
jeopardized everything that had been so painfully obtained in 1814. 1 

He counts up the territorial losses which were now inflicted on France and says : 

France had brought those disasters on herself when, giving way to sentiment and 
moved by the memory of the days of glory, she forgot everything, to throw 
herself into the arms of the Emperor. 

And yet the legend was hardly bom; it grew and throve only with the martyr- 
dom of St Helena. 

This is not the language of an admirer. But in his Napoleon , Bainville refrains 
almost entirely from passing a political judgement on these events. ‘He had not 
yet had his genuine fifth act,’ he writes, ‘there had been a false curtain at Fon- 
tainebleau.’ 2 He then particularly emphasizes the necessity which Napoleon felt 
of flattering the revolutionaries and keeping on good terms with the liberals, 
and his hopelessly false position as a constitutional Emperor. He continues to 
look upon the course of affairs from the personal side. After Waterloo, when 
Napoleon wants to embark upon the British vessel, Bellerophon , and a French 
general asks whether he is to accompany him, the Emperor replies (‘and how 
well it is put V says Bainville): ‘No, general. It must not be said that France has 
delivered me up to the English.’ Bainville’s comment is : * An actor, but one who 
works only in the grand style.’ 3 

The reader will have recognized Vandal in the interpretation of the Consulate, 
but he will have been particularly reminded of Sorel. Indeed, the whole of 
Bainville’s Napoleon - defender of the ‘natural frontiers’, prisoner of a system 
already settled before his time, victim of the determination of Britain and of 
Europe and of their astute deception of French public opinion - is the Napoleon 
of Sorel. The book brings no original vision. It is a popularization of the concep- 
tions of others, and especially of one other. It makes exciting reading, and in 
its concentrated form it is dramatic; upon uncritical readers it exercises a high 
degree of persuasion. But it can hardly be called a contribution to the historical 
discussion of Napoleon. 

As a matter of fact, those who are aware of the literature of the subject will be 
hardly less surprised at this than at the author’s chapter about the Dreyfus affair 
in La troisieme Ripublique. I have summarized the argument about the breach 
of the peace of Amiens. It may have been wondered what Bainville would have 

1. Histoire de France , p. 439. 2. NapoUon , p. 525. 

3. op. dt. p. 556. 



to say about Scbastiani’s report concerning Egypt and its publication in the 
Moniteur. The answer is, nothing: he does not mention it. In this way it is not 
difficult to put all the guilt upon Britain. And such throughout is Bainville’s 
method. He passes in silence everything that does not fit into his system, and he 
takes no notice of the criticism aimed by the experts at his guides Vandal and 
Sorel. When one reads him, it is as though Guyot and Muret and Driault had 
not written. The Directorate is still uiuformly contemptible ; Bonaparte always 
provides a shining contrast. He alone knew that one should not plunder the 
Italian population, he alone understood that the Vendee ought to be pacified. 
And so forth. Napoleon’s pronouncements about the British peril are taken 
without criticism as expressing his profoundest opinion, and no mention, is 
made of the hesitations and differences of the powers. I could fill pages by addin * 
up points which we have met in this discussion, on which one certainly cannot 
demand agreement from every subsequent author, but which Bainville brushes 
aside in a manner that is really somewhat too light-hearted. It is true that by 
thus placing oneself outside the discussion, and by keeping obstinately to a 
single leading idea, one can write an exceedingly readable book and get into the 
Academic as well; one can also serve one’s own ‘organic truth’ by so doing. But 
as for objective truth - no. 


Is not this last observation so crushing that I must be thought illogical if I still 
give any further attention to Bainville’s writing? It was not, however, my inten- 
tion to demolish him, although I have made most serious reservations. His 
slavish dependence upon Sorel notwithstanding, one cannot deny him historical 
imagination. He has seen his Napoleon, and he has seen him in connexion with 
a broader picture (although again most daringly fashioned to fit his own par- 
ticular conceptions) of the history of France. And in any case, what I am 
now going to discuss is his own invention, in greater degree than what 

Apart from this insistence on Napoleon’s subjection to fate, there is another 
idea which gives life to the book. As early as page 2 the author recalls Napoleon’s 
own explanation at St Helena (‘What a novel, anyhow, my life has been !’) and 
thereby indicates a leitmotiv of his work. The striking aspect of his conception 
is not so much that he tried to bring into relief the novel-like character of the 
life he describes. Everyauthor, unless too much absorbed by the moral or political 
significance of the events to pay much attention to the appearance, will be struck 
by the wonderful aspect of the career, and will try to communicate this impres- 
sion to his readers. But Bainville has made Napoleon’s capacity to be impressed 



by his own life into a main characteristic of his personality. It had not escaped 
the attention of contemporaries. Mme de Remusat notes the intense interest 
Napoleon felt for his own life story. Talleyrand, once or twice, realized that the 
great man was consciously at work on ‘the novel of his life’. Chateaubriand, his 
enemy, called him - though not in the pamphlet of 1814 - ‘a poet in action*. 

Bainville has worked this up into the portrait of a man able to make a dicho- 
tomy of his ego, who can see himself live - the gift of the artist, of the intellectual. 
What a different basis is established here for the admiration of Napoleon the 
man than that presented by Arthur-Levy, for whom he could not sufficiently 
resemble a good bourgeois ! A third conception was that of Lanfrey, which 
though so very different from that of Arthur-Levy - Napoleon the cold cal- 
culating egoist, the perfectly amoral adventurist - was from this point of view, 
as will be recalled (see p. 85), the diametrical opposite of Bainville’s reading. 
For Lanfrey denied to Napoleon precisely this capacity of looking without 
prejudice and disinterestedly at his own personality, his own actions. The 
remarkable thing about these conceptions of the figure, however much each 
appears to exclude the other, is that all three of them make the reader feel he is 
brought in contact with ‘a side of the personality’. That was how I put it 
(p. 164) in discussing NapoUon intime. The Napoleon of Lanfrey, who calculates 
his effects even when he appears to be most unselfconscious, is just as little a pure 
invention. But here Bainville, in bringing out this trait, at first sight incom- 
patible, also carries conviction. 

On the evening when he has occupied the Tuileries as First Consul, in itself 
an important decision, Bonaparte is supposed to have said to Josephine: ‘ Come 
along, my little crdole, go and lie down in the bed of your masters.’ A famous 
phrase, and one which Bainville characterizes as among the most revealing of 
those that have been preserved. 

The unforeseen, the fantastical, even the irony of the situation, are well conveyed 
by it; nothing of all that escapes this uncommonly mature young man, who can, 
when time allows, see himself live, who is capable of reflections on his destiny and 
on himself. 1 

Bonaparte has become Emperor. 

One of his most remarkable traits [writes Bainville] which he owes to the pre- 
dominance in his personality of the intellect, is his capacity for a dual vision. 
Nothing ever surprises him, of all the incredible things that happen to him ... He 
lives on a footing of equality with his destiny. To reign comes perfectly naturally 
to him.. It is a chapter of the novel in which he is a personage. Not that he forgets 

1. p. 170. 

34 4 


where he conies from, whence he has risen, all that had to happen „o make him 
possible, and how fragile is his rule. He knows it better than anybody, and without 
ever being troubled by it. Nor docs greatness alter his mind or even his language. 
Majestic on solemn occasions, he remains what he was before in intimate and human 
intercourse, brusque, ironical, now distant, now familial, amiable or blunt, and 
occasionally coarse. For himself he admits no compulsion, while he imposes on his 
surroundings the laws of a strict etiquette ... On the throne Napoleon is more at 
his ease than if he had been bom to it, for even the traditions he revives in his court 
are calculated and a matter of will. 1 

Thus he remains to the very last. See him after the Russian disaster in the sledge 
with Caulaincourt. 

That perilous journey is merely a striking new chapter in his adventurous life. 
Years earlier, indeed, Bonaparte had departed from Egypt in similar circumstances, 
trusting himself to fortune. Nothing amazes him. He has always been ready for 
anything to happen. During that journey, he discusses himself as one would a 
stranger, with that pleasure in seeing himself live by which the artist may be 
recognized. He has taken Caulaincourt with him as if he were anxious, or curious, to 
fmd himself alone with the man to whose counsel he had refused to listen . . . One 
would almost say that Napoleon is having a rehearsal for the Manorial de St Helene; 
his way with Caulaincourt is already that with Las Cases later on. 3 

The same day on which lie addressed the ironical remark to Josephine - the 
wide divergence of mood covered by that mind is repeatedly pointed out by 
Bainville - Bonaparte walked with the State Councillor Roederer through the 
rooms of the old royal palace, and when Roederer, influenced by the memories 
it awakened, said to him ‘General, cela est triste * he replied: ‘Otri, comtne la 
gloire * Bainville comments: ‘The upstart gave way to the literary man, to the 
poet, who felt things.’ To the romantic, as he says elsewhere, and as Guerard 
had already remarked. 

But it is not only in detached utterances, it is in his whole life, in the deeds 
and calculations of the statesman, that Bainville finds this intellectual and 
artistic quality. In the ambitious plans of the First Consul to begin with. The 
historical forms of which ‘this powerful imagination’ makes use, could only 
arise so naturally with an intellectual, tin ceribral. This sense of historical great- 
ness was prepared by the bold flights of mind to which the studious little officer 
had abandoned himself in his rooms at Auxonne. Greatness does not startle him 
nor make him ridiculous. It is a natural action for him to choose the cardinal 

z. p. 239 f£ 2 . p. 467. 



archbishop, de Boisgelin, who twenty-five years earlier had delivered the ser- 
mon on the occasion of the consecration of Louis XVI, that in praising tire 
Concordat he might compare its author to Pepin and Charlemagne. 1 

Or take the scene in Notre Dame, on 2 December 1804, when Napoleon, 
notwithstanding the most positive promises made to the Pope, forestalls him 
at the critical moment by taking the crown in his own hands and placing it on 
his head. We have heard authors who note above all the deceit; others in whose 
eyes the symbolic meaning of the act seemed to compensate for it. Bainville 
forgets it because of the fine gesture. 

This gesture [with which he forestalled the mild-hearted Pius] which is described 
to us as at the same time imperious and calm, so studied that it looked spontaneous, 
inspired as by an indwelling genius - perhaps the genius of the Republic - this 
gesture he managed to make so noble and so great that all those present felt it 
belonged to history. 2 

The romantic, I said a moment ago: an unexpected combination with that 
appearance, with that display of impeccable Roman classicism, with that Latin 
clarity and precision, from which Bourgeois and Driault deduced their other- 
wise so different theories about the purpose of his foreign policy! If one has 
clearly envisaged the fact that Napoleon united in himself those contradictions, 
this alone explains the rich possibilities of widely divergent interpretations. 
But Bainville points out another trait, which, in combination with the others, 
strikes us as unexpected, and which actually leads us back to the Napoleon of 
Arthur-Levy. ‘Egypt’, he writes, ‘is in the career of the general what Atala was 
in that of Chateaubriand.* And he means the romantic pull of the exotic. But 
in that famous proclamation to the soldiers about ‘the forty centuries’ looking 
down upon them ‘from the top of the Pyramids’, he is irreverent enough to 
discern an attempt at the sublime which only its epic quality saves from being 
ridiculous. He smiles at ‘this way of speaking at once oriental and bourgeois’, 
these stylistic effects which flatter the Joseph Prud’homme in the Frenchman. 
Similarly of the scarcely less famous proclamation after Austerlitz - ‘ Soldats , 
je suis content de vous . . . 11 vous sujfira de dire: “J’itais a la bataille d’ Austerlitz,” 
pour c[ue Yon reponde: voila un brave ’ - he says : 

Emphatic style, well suited to impress men’s minds with the middle-class and 
popular romanticism, with that genre of surburban taste in ornaments for the 
mantelpiece of which Bonaparte had discovered the secret.* 

Here there would still be room for a dispute about the question to what extent 

1. p. 198. 2. p. 248. 3. p. 271. 



tliis rhetoric, which was to suit Beranger so perfectly, bubbled up from the 
depth of Napoleon’s soul, or whether it was an expression of conscious artistry, 
the technique of an actor who is master of his craft ; or - a tliird possibility w luck 
would bring one into agreement with Lanfrcy - whether it came from a cal- 
culating turn of mind and was directed towards aims that were strictly practical. 

7 Louis Madelin 


Louis Madelin may be counted among the professional historians, although 
he has never tried to make a career in the Universite. He is a talented writer, he 
professes the correct conservative, religious, and patriotic sentiments. No 
wonder then that with a book about Fouche and a highly admired and unrevolu- 
tionary history of the French Revolution to his credit, he was elected to the 
Academic . But of the many 'immortals* whom we have met 1 he seems to me, 
for all his charm, learning, and productiveness, to be the least outstanding 

Madelin’s Fouche goes back to the beginning of the century. I shall not enu- 
merate his works (from one of his books I have already - p. 297 if. - given a 
quotation). In 1932 and 1933 he published, in Funck Brentano’s Histoire de 
France racontee a tous, in which twenty years earlier his Revolution had appeared, 
two volumes about Consulat et Empire. I shall limit myself mainly to these, 
although soon afterwards he began the publication of a much more detailed 
work in which the same subject matter was to be dealt with once more, but this 
time in twelve volumes, of which, however, only four had appeared at the out- 
break of war. 

From Madelin’s somewhat sarcastic description of the self-opinionated 
Napoleonic officials outside France proper which I have quoted (p. 298), the 
reader may have formed the impression that his conservative attitude of mind 
is likely to make him critical of the activity and the personality of Napoleon. 
This is far from being the case. It is impossible to hesitate even for a moment 
about him, as one can about Bainville. He is an admirer; and while Bainville 
copies without further consideration from Vandal and Sorel, but yet adds 
something of his own, it can be said of Madelin that his work continues on the 
lines laid down by the two great Napoleonic historians. There is less uncritical 
copying, but also less that is original. As a result we do not find in his work im- 
portant new points of view. On the main issues he treats us to an interpretation 
already familiar to us, and what characterizes him is not so much the dramatic 

1. Chateaubriand, Mignet, Thiers, d’Haussonville, Taine, Houssaye, Vandal, Masson, 
Sorel, Lavisse, France, Barres, Bainville, and presently Hanotaux. 



and spirited presentation, as in the case of Bainville, as the clear, detailed, and 
able expose. For this reason his twelve volumes will, when complete, form ail 
important contribution. However strongly one may object to his conceptions, 
the controversies of recent times and the opposing views to which they have 
given rise have undeniably been utilized in his broad treatment. Moreover, the 
extensive annotation is highly instructive. But we are concerned here mainly 
with views, and these, as I said before, I intend to illustrate for the most part 
from the two-volume textbook. 


Shortly after the beginning of Le Consulat et I’Empire the author gives a portrait 
of Bonaparte, or better of‘/e Bonaparte de Van VIII *. 1 This occupies some highly 
interesting pages, which exactly reflect the spirit of the whole book. 

‘Bonaparte* (according to a phrase of Schopenhauer, who had met him) 
‘is the finest embodiment of human will power.* This is Madelin’s point of 
departure. In matters of state, this characteristic leads Bonaparte to an authori- 
tarian conception. But authority is for him merely a prerequisite for order. 
‘He had order in his blood.’ Such a character, according to Madelin, even if 
directed by an ordinary spirit, would have been a blessing for the France of 
1799 , 

but with a wonderfully gifted, organized, and powerful brain applied to regulating 
and instructing these tendencies, the blessing became immeasurable. 

A broad and profound outlook, a mind inclined to study, well read, ever busy, 
hardworking: ‘A passionate worker, Bonaparte was even more a man of mental 
labour than a man of action.’ He was for ever in search of facts, facts, facts, which 
he arranged and meditated upon tirelessly. His powerful imagination did not 
work in a vacuum. His dreams were not purely visionary. ‘They were trans- 
formed immediately into concrete acts, into practical measures. The fact is that 
he was extraordinarily realistic.* This is how with his common sense he was 
able, at the rise of the Consulate, ‘to redress the evil wrought by the crazy ideo- 
logy of the Assemblies ’. Thus his policy was that of an opportunist. But it is 
particularly in his execution that he displayed his realism. He was able to extract 
everything possible from his collaborators and officials. Sometimes he worked 
them to death, but it was in the interest of ‘ la chose puhlique * . 

As regards the ideas of this unusual man, ‘they fulfil the aspirations of the 
country*. They sprang ‘from his own character, from his study of history and 
from the spectacle that presented itself to his eyes over the preceding ten years*. 

i. i, 31-43. 



He had been a supporter of the Revolution, almost a Jacobin; but now he recog- 
nized, though fully appreciating certain results of the Revolution, that there 
had been much good in the ancien regime. 

He thought, and rightly so, that the movement of 1789 had aimed only at equality. 
4 Liberty,’ he used to add, 4 was no more than its pretext.* 

What he saw besides in the Revolution (Madelin quotes the following from 
Vandal) was ‘the military and martial side, the conquering and Roman quality*. 
Madelin continues in his own words to the following effect : 

The natural frontiers acquired, French glory exalted, the way prepared for French 
hegemony, these, with all careers open to talent, were undoubtedly among the 
achievements of the Revolution those which seemed to him most beautiful. 

Equality, the tabula rasa made by the abolition of the old provinces, now the 
basis upon which could be constructed that centralized state of which Colbert 
had dreamed but whose realization had been prevented by the Icings ; the ‘natural 
frontiers* as the concern of the people. Looked at in tills way, the Revolution 
seemed to Bonaparte a blessing, and he was willing to pass for ‘the embodiment 
of the Revolution*. He wished to serve not a party but the nation. He loved 
France, and he loved her past. He felt a link between himself and his predecessors, 
with the Comiti de salut public and with the kings. A man of authority, he dis- 
liked ‘the assemblies* and the Press equally. But this is not to say that he wished 
to govern against the people. 

On the contrary, it was his firm intention to base himself on la democratic, against 
the oligarchies. 

For the people of Paris he wanted an assured bread supply and amusements that 
would elevate the soul (see p. 321). Soon he was to grant the Legion of Honour 
to an honest miner while withholding it from the monied men. 

None of the oligarchies he abhorred as much as he did that of the financiers, so 
influential under the Directorate. 

He did not want a military oligarchy either, nor a domination of priests, nor the 
rule of lawyers. 

A master, a chief; a sovereign arbiter, restorer, and preserver of order, who, freed 
from the pressure of social groups, was to prevent all possible excesses of parlia- 
mentary oratory, of the Press, of the electorate [in their cornices] - such was the 
First Consul’s conception of authority. 

Next ; The defence of the nation against Europe and the conquest of a glorious 
peace. Peace is what he wants.’ But he also wishes to retain the ‘natural frontiers*, 
and he knows that Europe grudges them to France. 




The outline invites a few remarks. It will have been noticed that there is no 
shading to the picture. After the evil wrought by * crazy ideology*, a happy 
period dawns of authority, order, and common sense. Madelin, who places 
himself unmistakably to the right (with Vandal and Bainville) by his interpre- 
tation of the Revolution as indifferent to libeity, abhors paihamentarianism as 
much as does his hero. For him it is the same as oligarchy, and he discredits It 
still further by connecting it particularly with the moneyed oligarchy. Tabula 
rasa through the disappearance of the historic division into provinces, and at 
the same time through equality and the political impotence of all social groups. 
It is amusing to see the author afraid that every one of these social groups, the 
financiers, the lawyers, the priests, the generals, may come to exercise domina- 
tion, but that he has not a word to say on the danger that the dictator who absorbs 
all these different powers might himself at a given moment abuse Ms omnipo- 
tence. But why be afraid of Bonaparte ! Bonaparte wanted peace, even though 
it had to be a glorious peace with the ‘natural frontiers* intact (these, by the way, 
‘Europe* was already leaving to him in 1801-2, but about this we shall hear 
more from Madelin), and he rested his power on la dimocratie . 

Need I point out that the word democracy is not used here in its true signifi- 
cance? No free Press, no political discussion, but the people conciliated through 
bread and amusements to elevate the soul (no serious popular education, how- 
ever) and through a decoration for an honest miner - needless to point out, to 
our generation, that this is not democracy. 

One more point. ‘Bonaparte was eminently a realist.* How is it possible to 
assert tMs without reservation? I could contrast with the statement Bainville*s 
sketch of a Bonaparte concerned with artistic effects and working at the novel 
of his life. But let me recall the remark made at an early date by the liberals that 
Bonaparte’s cynicism and his contempt for men (about which Madelin keeps 
silent) blinded him to loftier motives, to disinterested convictions and idealism, 
although these too can be realities in the case of individuals and of groups. I 
recall the particular case of Ms blindness concerning the Spanish people, and in 
general concerning the national movements wMch were to turn against him 
in Europe at a later stage. Bainville, surely, was right when he wrote that Napo- 
leon’s Spanish mistake was the mistake of an ideologist. He overestimated the 
universal power of attraction of the Revolution’s reforming slogans with wMch 
he approached the Spaniards. He also overestimated, as he did so frequently, 
the miraculous effect of his military power and of intimidation. In short, he 



acted according to general principles, instead of paying attention to die special 
circumstances of the Spanish affair: that would have been realism. 

But finally I should like to place over against the realistic Napoleon of the 
portrait of 1932 the entirely different figure outlined by Madelin in 1906 in his 
La Rome de Napoleon. One would almost think that a lifelong study of Napoleon 
had affected the independence of Madelin* s attitude towards the great man, 
though not so seriously as in the case of Driault. 

By an uncommonly striking atavism this Corsican army commander had Rome 
in the marrow of his bones. His blood was Roman, his profile was Roman. From 
the ancient Roman he derived the relish for greatness, the passion to dominate, the 
extravagant imagination, at times allied with merciless realism. [The contrast with 
the later portrait is indeed stnkmg.] Engraved in his brain he has Roman law; the 
Roman mamier marks his decision, his style, his way of governing. Instinctively 
he feels Rome to be his ideal centre ... In his imagination he has dwelt for ages on 
the Capitol. He was fed on Rome. Many years before he brought Caesar back to 
life, he made an impassioned study of Livy, Tacitus, and Plutarch and of all the 
works which the eighteenth century had produced on the subject of Rome. But 
his powerful intellect burst through the framework of that history, grandiose 
though it was, and he preferred the Rome of the great Corneille to that of the 
excellent Abbe Rollin: so great a subject seemed to him to belong exclusively to 
the domain of the poet of genius, ‘whom I should create a prince if he were still 
alive’. 1 

For many pages Madelin then proceeds to show how, early and late, Napoleon 
was ‘possessed* by Rome. At first, in his earlier years, it was Brutus and Scaevola, 
the Catos and the Gracchi. Then it is Caesar. In 1809 he conversed with Canova, 
who was modelling a statue of him. 

What a great people were these Romans, especially down to the Second Punic 
War. But Caesar ! Ah, Caesar ! That was the great man I 

And when the sculptor mentions Titus, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor 
exclaims: ‘They were all great, all, down to Constantine !* Britain is Carthage. 
He compares his own government (as we already know - see p. 261) with that 
of Diocletian. He likes to put himself in the place of others who have been con- 
nected with Rome, of Charlemagne and of the Emperor Charles V (for, as 
Madelin remarks, Napoleon is an incorrigible dabbler in history, and for him 
past reigns are hut the prelude to his own). But at bottom these men, even Con- 
stantine, are for him but 

half emperors, because they have had the weakness to hand over Rome to that 
brood of priests, or to leave it to them. The figure which leaves him no rest is that 

1. La Rome de Napoleon , p. 149. 


of Augustus with his crown of laurels, who instead of the Rome of bricks which 
he found, leaves behind him one of marble. 

The Rome of his own. time is not even of brick; he looks upon it as a ruin, he 
waxes indignant at the bad government as well as at the neglect of old monu- 
ments. He makes magnificent plans for Rome, always hi connexion with him- 
self, or with a son of his. He cannot bear to leave it to anyone else. The difficulties 
■with which he meets at Rome, the unwillingness of the Romans to be made 
happy in his manner, wound him profoundly. 

And all tills from a distance, for he has never been there. He lias never been 
there, because he did not wish to come unless as the undisputed master, recog- 
nized by the dethroned Pope as well as by the population. Never was he able 
to renounce that dream, and to the last he hoped to force or to overawe the 

But, and this is the point which matters, his dreams, Ills idealized Rome, the 
Rome of his reading and of Ills imagination, prevented him from discerning or 
understanding the real Rome. 

The priests he took to be cowards and the Romans heroes, because he had read 
Rousseau and Plutarch. 1 

He shared the misconceptions of his time and of his country about the ancient 
and the modern Romans, but his personal sentiments added a particular vehemence. 
No Frenchman had a mind so stocked with errors on the score of Rome as had the 
Emperor. 3 

And tills put its stamp upon Ills policy towards the city and towards the Papacy. 
At times it made him too impatient and too irascible, at times too yielding and 
too hesitant. 

In short, in a political matter of the greatest importance he showed himself 
anything but a realist ! 


Is it necessary to analyse Madelin’s treatment of the Concordat? One under- 
stands beforehand that neither the reservations of Quinet or d’Haussonville 
nor those of Aulard will be found in lids work. In a little volume of essays, dated 
1913 , he had already given his view on the Concordat in dealing with a work by 
Cardinal Mathieu, which opposed to d’Haussonville the conventional Catholic 
conception. According to Madelin’s interpretation, Bonaparte was led to take 
tlii s measure against great opposition and countermoves, simply because the 
French nation wanted it. The French nation wanted its priests, its church bells, 
1. op. cit. p. 161. 2. op. cit. p. 148. 

R-n.f a.~m 



and peace with Rome ; and he had enough insight and courage to grant it its 
wish. The fact that personally he had no faith makes his action all the more de- 
serving m the eyes of Madelin. 1 

There is something naive in this way of reasoning. The modem critics of the 
Concordat, and certainly those who agree with d’Haussonville, do not begrudge 
the French people their priests, their church bells, and their peace with Rome. 
The popular joy which greeted the proclamation is a fact, and a fact of impor- 
tance. But is it not clear that the French people had no conception of what was 
the real significance of the arrangement in Bonaparte’s calculating and self- 
seeking mind, and that what they longed for and rejoiced at could have been 
aclneved in a different maimer? That at least is the point in debate; but one must 
not expect Madelin to shed light upon it. 


But I leave this matter and proceed to examine Madelin’s view of the problems 
of the consular and imperial foreign policy. 

First a minor point, which carries us back to the period of General Bonaparte 
It concerns the treatment of Venice in 1797. We saw (p. 81) how scathingly 
Quinet rejects as a sophism the later assertion of Napoleon at St Helena that he 
had delivered the old Republic to Austria for the sake of strengthening the 
patriotism of the Venetians and educating them for their Italian future. Madelin 
sees it differently. 

In his heart it is painful to him to deliver up that fragment of Italy to the Austrians. 
We have evidence of this - slight perhaps, but still an indication - in the letter which 
he wrote to the French charge d'affaires after the consummation of the sacrifice at 
Campo Formio; he was to counsel acquiescence to the citizens of Venice, but 
Bonaparte adds : ‘Qu’ils ne desesperentpas de leurpatrie! * 

One can easily imagine how Lanfrey would have interpreted this advice, had he 
known of it - as being thoroughly characteristic of Bonaparte, who sells the 
Venetians to Austria, but at the same time already prepares against the even- 
tuality of his finding himself once more at wax with Austria, when he would 
be glad of their support. Thoroughly characteristic; especially on account of 
that utterly unprincipled game with the national idea, which he flatters at the 
very moment he treads it under foot. Madelin, on the other hand, takes the 
utterance quite seriously. 

‘Qu’ilsne desesperentpas’: and on 2 6 December 1805 the treaty ofPressburg does 
1. France et Rome , p. 351. 



take Venice from Austria, to join it with the ‘kingdom of Italy’. It is as if, as early 
as 1797, Bonaparte foresaw the future. 1 2 

Tliis treatment of the undeniably rather ‘painful' case of Venice goes to show 
what a benevolent judge the whole policy of Napoleon will find in Madelin. 
One can also conclude from it that he will endeavour to maintain tins important 
component part of the legend, the belief in Napoleon's sincere feeling for national 
aspirations; and this against all evidence from the facts of his actual policy. 


As regards the central problem of Napoleon’s foreign policy, Madelin says 
explicitly that: ‘The thesis of Albert Sorel - whatever Driault may have urged 
against it - appears to me after fresh study still to he in accordance with the facts.’ 3 4 
Thus we shall not, as I have already said, find anything new here, but it is worth 
while to follow up a few points and to see how this modem writer gets rid of 
objections which indeed do not all originate with Driault. hi doing this, we 
shall once more notice an o ver-cxrited nationalism which I am inclined to ascribe, 
as in the case of the later Driault, to the influence of the First World War. 

Bonaparte - to give a brief summary of Madehn’s views about the rupture 
of the peace of Amiens -wanted peace. He expected the recently concluded peace 
would be lasting. Britain, on the other hand, envying France’s renewed pros- 
perity, wanted war. (This is exactly Sorel, as will be remembered - p. 247). 
The assertion that Bonaparte’s advance on the continent (Holland, Switzerland, 
Piedmont) excused Britain’s delay in evacuating Malta, is absurd. As Bonaparte 
himself observed (here I follow the large work of 1939) : 3 ‘All this is not men- 
tioned in the treaty. I see in it only two names, Tarento, which I have evacuated, 
and Malta, which you are not evacuating.' 

This sounds extremely cogent, but it takes no account of the British thesis, 
which, as I have already pointed out (p. 252 n.), was undoubtedly current in the 
international and public law of Europe at that time, and which the British 
Government formulated as follows, in its instructions to Lord Whitworth: 

h.m. is determined never to forgo his right of interfering with the affairs of the 
continent on any occasion in which the interest of his own dominions or those of 
Europe in general may appear to him to require it.* 

1. Histoire du Consulat et de VEmpire, 11, V Ascension de Bonaparte (1937), p. 375- 

2. Le Consulat et VEmpire, 1, 221. Note that he mentions only Driault; yet Muret’s and 
Guyot’s criticisms also deserve attention. 

3. Histoire du Consulat et de VEmpire, vr, Le Consulat, p. 292. 

4. J. Holland Rose, Life of Napoleon I, p. 403 ■ 



But Bonaparte, as Madelin says himself, would never have concluded the peace 
of Amiens if it was to have tied his hands in any way whatsoever. 1 Our author 
does not seem to realize to what extent, by these words, he qualifies his hero 
as an intractable and mischief-making element in Europe. He nevertheless takes 
the trouble to look at each of the three important continental expansions of power 
of the First Consul from this point of view. Piedmont and Switzerland are 
waved aside with a shrug of the shoulder, as being of no importance or nothing 
new. In the case of Holland, he recognizes that it must affect Britain, but he says : 
‘Who was ignorant of the fact that Holland had for the last two centuries been 
England’s client in time of war as well as of peace?’ And thus the occupation of 
Holland by France is justified, at any rate with a public which is as badly informed 
about Dutch history as is the author himself. 2 

Awkward facts, like the mission of Sebastiani and the publication of his report 
about Egypt in the Moniteur , or the philippic against Lord Whitworth, Madelin 
does not pass over in silence, as did Bainville ; but he knows how to make them 
innocuous. He recognizes that they were mistakes. Sebastiani’s mission, however, 
he discusses as something perfectly natural; it is only the publication which he 
admits was an error. Yet the mission had not remained a secret to the British, 
and had inspired them with concern about the First Consul’s intentions. But 
these mistakes had been the result of provocation. It had been evil intention on 
the part of the British Government which made it choose Lord Whitworth in 
the autumn of 1802 to go to France. (Madelin, it may be noted in passing, persists 
in calling him Withworth in both his books.) 

Instead of a diplomat who would have been disposed to pour oil on the troubled 
waters, they sent a representative of the English peerage, the element least inclined 
towards peace, a great lord who had sworn to disturb the peace while waiting till it 
could be broken, so that as far as was possible he could hamper the great work of 
the Consul. 

Madelin, apparently, is as ignorant of British history as of Dutch. The separation 
he tries to make as to political inclination between the ‘great lords’ and the other 
British - an echo of those tirades against the British aristocracy or oligarchy to 
which Bonaparte himself was so much given - has no foundation in fact. The 
author anyhow produces no single proof in support of his view of Lord Wliit- 

1. Histoire du Consulat et de VEmpire, IV, 307. 

2. ‘The last two centuries’! In the seventeenth century therefore - in the time of un- 
restrained Anglo-Dutch rivalry, which gave rise to three wars ! Even for the eighteenth 
century (in spite of Frederick the Great’s well-known remark) the assertion is quite 
untenable. In 1787, not long after the fourth Anglo-Dutch war, it could be said that 
Holland was in the position of a client with respect to Great Britain, hut this had lapsed 
as early as 1795, owing to the creation of the Batavian Republic. 



worth’s personal sentiments, and it is a fact that Whitworth had been chosen for 
his post at a moment when the British Government had still every hope of pre- 
serving the peace. But in the opinion of Madelin it was the attitude of ‘tills 
otand seigneur * with his phlegmatic arrogance which first irritated the First 
Consul and finally caused him to lose his self-command. 

What a Withworth [sic] wanted, what those who had chosen him wanted, had 
come to pass: the First Consul, more and more exasperated, had committed 
mistakes. 1 

Without hesitation I call this a striking sample of history writing distorted by 
partisanship. We have repeatedly noticed how a desire to whitewash Napoleon, 
accompanied by anti-British sentiments, led French authors astray. But it 
strikes me doubly disagreeably in a book which is presented to the world as an 
attempt to summarize the whole of our modem knowledge of Napoleon, and 
this by a man who is not only an academician , but a professional historian of long 
experience, working with learned and instructive notes, thoroughly familiar 
with the literature of the subject, and pretending to take part in the discussion. 

‘the whole of the question* of 1814 

One is thus left with little inclination to give much more attention to Madelin’s 
views about the problem of war and peace in Napoleon s career. It is always 
Sorel. It is always the European coalition aiming at her ‘natural frontiers’ 
against which the Emperor has to defend France. I note in passing that Madelin 
calls the dethronement of the Spanish Bourbons and the occupation of Rome, 
to be followed inevitably by its annexation and the kidnapping of Pius VII, 
the cardinal errors, but also that for the first of these at any rate he has found a 
scapegoat in Talleyrand. It was Talleyrand who presented to the Emperor the 
dethronement as a link with the tradition of Louis XIV, even though it was the 
latter’s descendant who would be the victim. As our author says: ‘Talleyrand 
had the knack of giving to the worst of his transgressions - the arrest of the Due 
d’Enghien had been a case in point - a colour of profound political thought.’ 3 
It is hard to fathom the intentions of that most dangerous of Napoleon’s coun- 
cillors, but Madelin undoubtedly implies that he wanted to bring about the 
Emperor’s undoing. 

I shall merely add a reflection about the way the year 1814 is dealt with. 

The situation at the end of 1813 was a critical one. There was Leipzig, and the 

1. Histoire du Consuht et de VEmpire, iv, 308 ff. See also p. 296; and Holland Rose, 

1, 403. 

2. Le Consulat et VEmpite (1932), 1, 361. 



Russian catastrophe which had preceded it, and the protracted misery of Spain. 
On 4 November 1813 all that remained of the three hundred thousand men 
with whom in the spring Napoleon had entered Germany was concentrated 
at Mayence. There were 60,000 men, and with these the marshals were to try 
to hold the Rhine frontier while the Emperor went to Paris to conjure up another 
300,000 men. It is true that almost 200,000 men were still dispersed in garrisons 
between the Vistula and the Elbe, and Napoleon did his utmost to get them 
back. But it was too late. They were cut off, and all now depended upon the new 
armies which he might be able to form. 

Madelin pictures to himself 1 

the Emperor on his departure from Mayence, casting a glance heavy with thought 
on the splendid river, on that Rhine which the troops of the nation had crossed four 
times before him [1793, 1794. 1798, and 1799] and with himself at their head 
another four times [1805, 1806, 1809, 1812]. A hundred and five years were to 
elapse before the troops of the nation were once more to pass across the bridge of 
Kastel [in 1918], As for Napoleon, he was not to see the Rhine again. Nothing was 
further from his expectation, for this amazing man was still confident that, sup- 
ported by a nation like the French, he would be perfectly able, with his genius - 
for that at any rate showed no signs of fatigue - to wrench from Fortune what she, 
after so many favours, seemed for the last two years determined to refuse him . 

Would the country respond to the trust reposed in it by its great leader? That 
was the whole question. 

Whereupon Madelin begins to argue that the ‘exhaustion* of France, after 
twenty-one years, was by no means so profound as historians have said and 
repeated. ‘Those twenty-one years had cost her fewer losses than would four 
years of war a century later.* No doubt this is true, as is Madelin’ s remark that 
France was exhausted because she thought she was - in other words, that she 
was morally exhausted. He looks for the cause of this in the circumstance that 
the war has for so long been waged far away from the frontier, and that the 
people no longer had their hearts in it. He admits, further, that the people, though 
attached to the Emperor, had lost all initiative, as a result of the authoritarian 
regime, and could no longer as in the days of Danton answer with Man when 
there was a call for a levee en masse. Yet he has nothing but contempt for the 
Assemblies , which after so many years of servility suddenly discovered in them- 
selves souls on the Brutus pattern, and for the whole bourgeoisie, which sud- 
denly burned with the love of liberty. 

For Madelin, as for Houssaye, and for so many others, ‘the whole question* 
is whether the country will once more produce for ‘its great chief* the necessary 
hundreds of thousands of young men. There is no further mention of Napoleon’s 

I. op. cit. 11, 234. 



mistakes, and anyhow, if one agrees with Sorel that he had all the time been 
compelled to defend France against an envious Europe, these mistakes arc of 
little significance. The interest of France is at tins critical hour inseparably linked 
up with that of Napoleon. People were indeed made to feel it after Ills abdica- 
tion, when the new king had to sign the Peace of Paris. For this peace fell like 
a blow. People had been sufficiently naive to imagine that by sacrificing Napo- 
leon they could escape from humiliating terms. Had the Allies not proclaimed 
three times that they were not waging war against France? But France looked 
upon the ‘natural frontiers’ as her right, as a part of herself; and of these, of 
the whole Rhineland and of Belgium, the peace was now depriving her. 

One feels in the whole description of these events by Madelin how much he 
too takes to heart the loss of these territories. Talleyrand says of the peace: Tt 
was a good and even rather a noble peace.’ 

The country [comments Madelin] thought the peace neither good nor noble. It 
was still proud of the glory and of the conquests acquired by La Grande Nation. If all 
tins had to be given, up, it had not been worth while to allow the sacrifice of the 
Emperor. . . . 

As an indication of the frame of mind which would soon prevail - in spite 
of the satisfaction created at first by the Charte and the liberal regime winch it 
announced - which made possible the expulsion of the new king and the Hundred 
Days, this is excellent. But I repeat that Madelm himself thinks of the ‘natural 
frontiers’ in the same terms as did the most fiery supporter of the Convention’s 
decree of 1794, and tins colours the whole of Ills interpretation of the parliamen- 
tary opposition to Napoleon, of Talleyrand, of Napoleon’s own attitude. 

8 Gabriel Hanotaux 


We possess only a fragment by Hanotaux about Napoleon. It is to be found in 
a number of articles in the Revue des Deux Mondesm 1925 and 1926. These amount 
altogether to some 3 80 pages, but it seems that the author’s interest or his strength 
failed him. He never finished the work, and it was never published as a book. 
This is a pity, for Napoleon is looked upon here from unusual aspects, and the 
resulting picture, in spite of a certain lack of cohesion and of smoothness, is one 
of the most striking in the whole gallery. 

Hanotaux, who was trained as a historian, became an official at the Ministry 
of Foreign Affairs, and was himself Minister from 1894 to 1898. In this capacity 
he attempted to carry through the policy of expansion in Africa, at the risk of 
creating friction with Britain. No doubt he had the earnest intention of avoiding 
a war, but he was ready in the last instance to play the card of cooperation with 
Germany. The Fashoda incident was the result of this policy, but it occurred 
just as Hanotaux was resigning. 

Apart from Thiers, no one among our authors played so weighty a part in 
affairs of state and at the same time left behind him such an important body of 
historical work. He differs from most of the others in not having concentrated 
mainly on Napoleon or the Napoleonic age. He reached Napoleon only when 
he was past seventy, after a monumental work on Richelieu and a large-scale 
history of the first ten years of the Third Republic in four large volumes. He also 
wrote about Joan of Arc, and on various modem subjects. All this is reflected in 
his work about Napoleon. It is especially the man with personal experience of 
high matters of state, and the man who spent many years in intimate commerce 
with Richelieu, whom we find in this work. 


Hanotaux’s articles do not form a connected history. They deal with the ten- 
dencies of the regime, and with the characteristics and qualities of Napoleon. 
The first is called Dm Consulat a V Empire. 

He accepts the Consulate as a necessary solution, and, taking everything into 
consideration, salutary. As soon as one does this the figure of Napoleon auto- 



matically takes a place among the greatest and most fruitful rulers of France, 
but what distinguishes Hanotaux from the true admirers is that he was by no 
means blind to the shortcomings of the statesman, nor to the mistakes that were 
inherent in the essence of his work and which must inevitably carry their penalty 
with them. 

From a number of pronouncements and passages of Hanotaux an interpre- 
tation might be constructed which would lead the reader to exclaim: ‘But this 
is Vandal !’ No words arc too strong to express his abhorrence of the misgovern- 
ment, the desperate confusion, the ‘muddy pool’ of the Directorate. He quotes 
Sir James Frazer on the lack of freedom of primitive societies. The slaves of the 
past, such are the ‘natural men* whom demagogues and dreamers have des- 
cribed as being free; their society is a thing of inferior quality, marked especially 
by stagnation. But sometimes it happens that an unusual man achieves supreme 
power, and succeeds in carrying out reforms which would otherwise have re- 
quired the work of many generations. And as soon as the tribe is no longer 
governed by the timid and often contradictory counsels of the ancients, but 
obeys the single direction of a powerful and determined mind, it becomes for- 
midable to the neighbouring tribes and enters upon the road of expansion of 
power which promotes social, industrial, and intellectual progress. Hanotaux 
proceeds to apply this view to Bonaparte's appearance as First Consul. ‘ C'est 
Vhettre du commandementd 1 The great achievement of Bonaparte has been that 
into stagnant affairs he introduced the factor of decision. 

His work consists in creating political mstitutions, as a result of which the decision - 
coming from the centre - will be transmitted without obstacle to the outer parts 
and will be obeyed without demur.* 

But at the same time, to what great purposes did he not put tills capacity for de- 
cision and this power ! First there was Marengo and the prospect of peace, and 
after that it was nothing less than 

miracles which administered to the cloudy revolutionary mixture the shock that 
was needed to bring about a stable and solid precipitation. It is the end of the 
Revolution and the remaking [la refection] of France. Where the assemblies lost 
their heads because they were absorbed m hair-splittmg arguments and m blood- 
shed, command sets to work. That man alone - and precisely because he was alone - 
is successful.* 

The Code, the Concordat 

One would almost think that this is another of autocracy’s eulogists. Yet it 
is only a historian who recognizes that at a specific moment this manifestation 

1. Revue des Deux Mondes, 1925, xxvi, 91* 

2. p. 92. 3- P- 98. 



was needed, and who can appreciate it within its framework and even enjoy 
its impressive air. He at once makes reservations of the kind one misses in Vandal, 
and as he proceeds with his observations the dark sides of the picture seem to 
oppress him more and more. 

To begin with he remarks that this command must carry a martial character. 
‘This was fatal. People count on the new ruler for the safety and for the develop- 
ment of the national domain.’ After this opening, one would expect the argu- 
ment that Bonaparte was not personally responsible for the wars of his regime. 
Indeed, Hanotaux has other remarks tending in this direction. 

No doubt [he says] the Emperor was inclined to war by his profession and by his 
genius, but in addition he was driven towards it by a force stronger than his will. 
Neither he himself nor France could stop where they were. They were on the 
move, and must go on to the end . 1 

But he never enters on an argument. If at moments he seems, like Sorel, to see 
an irreconcilable antagonism between France and Europe, he views it in an 
entirely different light. He sees first and foremost the contrast between the old 
feudal and the new egalitarian powers; the ‘natural frontiers’ he scarcely men- 
tions. Britain’s enmity was, he considers, inevitable for yet a number of other 
reasons, including, needless to say, British imperialism. But Hanotaux also 
sees that Bonaparte’s pretension to a free hand in continental Europe and to the 
domination of the Mediterranean were factors in the renewal of the struggle. 
A trade agreement might perhaps have saved peace, but this was not to be ex- 
pected from Bonaparte, since he lacked all economic insight - a great weakness, 
as Hanotaux insists, which made itself felt later also during the war with Britain. 

‘Napoleon,’ he concluded, ‘was vowed to war .’ 2 And yet he was not -without 
pacific impulses. ‘But unhappily the statesman, when it came to a clash, was no 
match for the warrior.’ And this leads him to the verdict that Napoleon over- 
burdened Ills internal task, an enormous liquidation, with a merciless foreign 
struggle, with the adventitious enterprise of conquering the world. This pro- 
nouncement, implying as it does responsibility or partial responsibility of Napo- 
leon for the wars, would find no place in Sorel’s rigid system ; and Vandal, with 
his glorification of the seeker for world peace, would also reject it. 

One could point to inner contradictions in what Ihave quoted so far. Sometimes 
Hanotaux advances the wars as an excuse for the dictatorial character, basically 
military, of Napoleon’s regime. He notes that nothing came of the guarantees 
for freedom promised at Napoleon’s elevation to the imperial dignity, and admits 
that this was partly the result of Napoleon’s nature, which could brook no con- 
tradiction : ‘He did not want to.’ But he goes on to say: 

I. op. cit. xxix, 267. 2. ibid. p. 275. 



To be fair, one must recognize that the undeniable necessities of a fight to the finish 
against Europe drove the man in the same direction as his temperament . 1 

At another moment these wars themselves arc represented as having been, at 
any rate partly, brought about by this temperament. 

The Emperor’s genius is, and remains, military . . . With a little less of this dangerous 
genius an energetic man might, without these risks and misfortunes, have put to 
much better advantage the introduction to the world’s affairs given him by the 
Revolution. The problem of the general European restoration after the Revolution 
might perhaps have been solved . 3 

I shall not say that no more synthetic interpretation of Napoleon’s policy is 
possible than this unsolved juxtaposition of for and against. Nevertheless, even 
this has something satisfying for those who have freed themselves from the 
powerful fascination of a system in appearance so cogent and strictly logical, 
in which everything is deduced from impersonal international forces, or in 
which on the contrary Napoleon appears as the autonomous disturber of tran- 
quillity, a system in which he is merely the builder of a better state and a better 
society, or again only the cunning contriver of his own power and advantage. 


In any case, the personality, the temperament, in the view of Hanotaux has its 
historical importance. So he too has tried to sketch a portrait of Bonaparte. It 
is a very striking portrait, incomparably more profound than that of Madelin, 
in my opinion, and more true to life. 

Only half a Frenchman, begins Hanotaux: ‘A Frenchman from abroad,’ like 
Rousseau, with whom as a young man he becomes infatuated, and in whom 
Hanotaux sees one of those ardent souls, 

unable to forgive France for her moderation, her wit, her reasonableness, instinctive 
enemies of France’s classical turn of mind ... In them the age of ‘philosophy* 
approaches that of romanticism. 3 

With this we are already far from the energetic realist, the formula in which 
Madelin thought he could shut up Napoleon. True, Hanotaux soon sees the 
emergence of a personality altogether different from ‘the Werther, the Rene’ 
of the beginning. 

In his own sphere, that of war, he displays from the beginning an unparalleled and 
i. xxix, 281. 2. xxix, 278. 3. xxvi, 68. 



infallible force and exactness of mind ... We see here a different Bonaparte indeed 
from the pupil of Rousseau and Raynal, a very different man from the dreamer 
steeped in Ossian. Let us say at once, however, that this original romantic inclination 
will never be quite corrected. When the spring slackens it will once more appear. 1 

Bonaparte’s energy is not only a remarkable incidental. 

Incessantly he keeps his eye and compasses on the map. His imagination is active 
all the time and works even in the abstract, if only to keep himself in training and 
exercise the elasticity and readiness of his reflexes. This complete immersion in his 
task is the ratio of his being, it is the whole of his life. This is what distinguishes 
these extraordinary natures. They obey a plan, a superior scheme of things. They 
‘act under God’s orders’; they ‘were born for this’, as Joan of Arc expressed it. 
Their course has been set for them, they follow their star. A hundred times Napoleon 
referred to his dependence on a mysterious being — and what, if that necessity is 
considered, is one to call him and the others, the blood that is shed, women, and 
the masses’ Tools, tools of Fate . . . This enjoyment of action, this passion for its 
results, this hunt for an ever more exalted and unattainable prey, this excitement 
felt in the mastering of life, of the past, and of the future, of the world, with powers 
infinitely extended, in short this superhuman existence, strains the spring till it 
breaks. Everybody will agree that these unusual beings are ambitious, for that is 
what they were bom for. But what their nature wants to feed on is the subordination, 
the self-denial and sacrifice of others, and if they do not restore to them what they 
have taken, if they oppress them only to enjoy their own sense of power, their abuse 
of superiority becomes intolerable and tyrannical. 

Hanotaux goes on to sketch Bonaparte’s ambitious dreams and the unrest he 
suffered as a result of them. Richelieu was subject in his youth to fits of weeping: 
so Bonaparte had his moments of despair. He felt driven, he knew not where; 
the east tempted his imagination as an escape. 

‘La moderation dans les conceptions fortes’, therein the superior quality of the mind 
shows itself. The coiled spring, command over self, this is true greatness, this is 
what one should strive for above all . . . Napoleon betrays a lack of balance in 
the limitless nature of his aims. 

In the long run his keen mind, his practical sense, his clear intellect become blurred; 
they lose themselves in an unbridled loquacity, in explosions of wild vehemence, 
in chimerical schemes which mean a return to the earlier romanticism, in that 
curious reluctance to discern or to recognize truth in which his imperious command 
is to lose sight of the right track. As he lies to others and to himself, so others will 
lie to him. He complains that he is being betrayed; he has betrayed himself. This 
failure of the richest natural gifts ever received by mortal man has a moral origin. 
Bonaparte’s disposition was ever personal, not perhaps so much for himself as for 

i. xxvi, 75. 



his enterprise and for his family. As a true Corsican, he never lost sight of his follow- 
ing, of his clan. One never finds in his career that complete subordination to duty 
which is demanded by the public interest, nor is there a trace of that care for others, 
that humanity, that humility towards life, or that self-denial which are the only 
inexhaustible resources and which depend exclusively on man himself. He is for ever 
looking out for advantage and gain, and too often calculates the immediate interest 
without taking into account more distant consequences.* 

What is remarkable about this portrait is that Hanotaux, while fully recog- 
nizing the greatness of his deeds for France, at any rate at the beginning, yet sees 
in Napoleon himself the origins of Iris downfall and of the partial failure of lus 
achievement. A secondary cause - but one which can also be referred to the 
faults of Napoleons character, to his impatience, to his inability to wait before 
embarking upon the coup d’etat - Hanotaux considers to be Iris dependence on 
the vilest relics of the period to which he was putting an end, on Fouche and 

It must be admitted that the drama, h roman de sa vie, gains from this abominable 
complication a more moving and a more human aspect. So lie too is human after 


Nevertheless Hanotaux is full of admiration for the achievements of the ruler, 
at any rate till 1807. For then there is a turn; then the foreign task, the war effort, 
begin to dominate to such an extent, to exercise such pressure upon everything, 
that the fruits of the regime are squandered and Iris finest projects spoiled and 
demolished by their great initiator himself. 

To begin with, the Concordat. Hanotaux discusses it as a believing Catholic. 
So did d’Haussonville, but Hanotaux has none of the reserves made by the earlier 
author. Yet his attitude is also not that of Madelin. That the people wanted the 
Concordat is not the whole story for Hanotaux. There is also the reconciliation 
of France with its past, and although Bonaparte certainly saw in the Concordat 
‘a source of power’ (there were 40,000 priests who were henceforth going to 
support his authority - and who in particular were going to protect him from 
possible attack from the generals), Hanotaux does not, like Madelin, take pleasure 
in the thought that it was the purely political act of a man personally indifferent 
to religion. On the contrary, ‘nothing is more honourable to tins superhuman 
man than his anxiety to find a rule which transcends man. Hie restlessness about 
divine things possessed him till his death.’ It is when dealing with the regulation 
of education that Hanotaux says this, but he sees Bonaparte, the maker of the 
Concordat, in the same light, 

1. xxvi, 81 ff. 



As to the significance of the Concordat, Hanotaux is prepared to look for it 
in the revival of the religious sense which others - d’Haussonville as well as 
Aulard, in their different ways - also noticed, but which according to their 
opinion did not need the Concordat, or was even impeded or perverted by it. 

From a conception like this, notions arise which are irreconcilable with those 
of men starting from different basic ideas. In the opinion of Hanotaux, the 
rationalism and sensualism of Voltaire and Condillac, followers of Locke, are 
so * painful* and * irritating* 1 that he cannot look upon them as a component of 
the national spirit, but only as a dissolvent. The reaction against these theories 
had its origins before the Revolution: see Rousseau, Swedenborg, and St Martin. 
In other words, it was originally not dogmatically Catholic but only religious, 
‘mystical*. But when the time is ripe, to continue Hanotaux s argument, all this 
finds its traditional form. 

Religion is a policy . . . Man in general and the Frenchman in particular is not a 
metaphysical being. 3 

So when people began to put questions about God, the reply was: 

But this is our God. Nothing can be simpler. ‘I am of the religion of my fathers * - 
a word of sturdy common sense. 

And thus the Concordat not only provided Bonaparte with the support of 
those 40,000 priests, but the maximum possible cooperation was obtained from 
all the spiritual and material forces, that the nation might become la Grande 

Why [sighs our author] was the man who benefited from this practical unanimity 
to take it upon himself to destroy it? On the day Napoleon entered on his struggle 
with the Pope, he smashed with his own hands both unity and Empire, so delicate 
is the problem of faith, which is both the foundation of modem society and the 
rock on which it can be shipwrecked. 3 

From all this it may be gathered that Hanotaux can see national unity realized 
only in Catholicism. French and Catholic are for him inseparable terms. It is 
a conception which Protestants, Jews, and freethinkers will for ever reject, as 
being an attack on their position in the state and in the nation, and which will 
also inspire distrust in those Catholics whose conception of their faith is some- 
what more ‘metaphysical*, and somewhat less ‘political*. 

I. XXXIII, 562 ff. 2 . XXXIII, 566. 3 * XXXIII, 571. 



Hanotaux is much more critical towards the constitution created by Bonaparte 
than towards the Concordat. The essence of tills constitution is military; it is 
intended for war. 1 Therefore there must be unity. ‘A whole generation must be 
poured into the same mould/ as the First Consul himself expressed it in the 
Council of State. Therefore there must he obedience. 

My government [Napoleon said himself at St Helena] was the most solidly con- 
densed, with the fastest circulation and the most immediate power for action \\ Inch 
has ever existed. Nothing less was needed, in the face of the formidable difficulties 
by which we were surrounded. The prefects were little emperors oil a small scale. 

He, and he alone, was the representative of the people, of the sovereign people. 
The Corps Legislatif ought really to have been called Conseil Legislatif : it did not 
represent the nation. This constitutional explanation was given by himself in 
the Moniteur in 1808, when the whirlwind was already carrying him with it, 
according to Hanotaux’s interpretation, and there was no more question of 

This was by no means what had been expected of him in 1799 at the time of 
the coup d’etat, nor even in 1 804 when the Empire was established. The Consulate, 
as it had become, was a dictatorship. Hanotaux is prepared to applaud this, as 
contemporaries had done. 

Anarchy is the weed which interferes with the production of a full harvest; every 
birth stands in need of authority, respected and obeyed, for its protection. Bona- 
parte was wise therefore to seize authority, and he exercised it, amid applause £roni 
his contemporaries, in such a way as to safeguard order by his administrative genius 
and the power of his administration. However, he made the mistake committed by 
the majority of dictators: he did not know how to give a reasonable limit in time 
to his necessary power. Instead of voluntarily terminating his dictatorial regime, he 
followed it wherever it lured him.* 

In 1804, when the dictatorship of the triumphant general was replaced by a 
hereditary empire intended to last through the centuries, political circles imagined 
that the intention was to weaken the absolutism, that ‘un-French warlike absolu- 
tism’, as Hanotaux writes in another passage. 

The public mind began to conceive a return to old French traditions, that is to say 
to the ‘tempered’ monarchy of Bodin and of Montesquieu. Without being in the 
least inclined to look to England for the example of parliamentary monarchy, the 


I. XXIX, 262 ff. 

2 . XXIX, 838 ff. 


men of sense and of experience would have been content with a constitution which 
allied to authoritarian forms serious guarantees of liberty. 

And indeed the quotations from official declarations which at that moment the 
representatives of the State assemblies addressed to Bonaparte leave nothing to 
be desired on the score of explicitness. 

Guarantees of public liberty ; we beg for the solemn covenant desired and promised 
in 1789; a ‘tempered monarchy’ in accordance with what our greatest publicists 
have written. 

Even Fontanes, the courtier par excellence , exclaimed: ‘Non, citoyen premier 
consul, vous ne voulez commander qu dun peuple libre V Later, at St Helena, Napo- 
leon declared that a better time and alleviation of the pressure would have come; 
but in reality he never wanted this. 

It is for his failure to prepare for this slackening of the tension, for his unbridled 
surrender to his temperament, that Napoleon bears in the eyes of history so heavy 
a responsibility. We may be sure that he understood, for he understood everything ; 
but he looked the other way, and to speak plainly, he was unwilling. 

The Legislative Assembly was put definitely in the background in 1808. 
Napoleon’s sinatus consultes and decrets imperiaux were given force of law by the 
Court of Cassation; freedom of the Press had long since been abolished; all 
discussion, all debate, had been done away with; and in conclusion * un homme 
est tout ’ - a peevish remark which Napoleon let fall one day. 

The Empire [says Hanotaux] is the Revolution without a constitution, although 
that Revolution had been accompanied by the cry: ‘A constitution or death.* 

This is indeed a very different conception of Napoleon and the Revolution than 
we have met with in Vandal or Masson. * The Empire is not a system, it is a fact.* 
But Hanotaux understands how untenable was this state of affairs. ‘A law,* he 
wrote, ‘would have been needed for the very man who had deemed himself 
to be above the law.* 

Napoleon was the first and one might say the only administrator of the empire. 
One of his ministers, Mollien, who was the perfect Civil Servant, says : ‘ He wanted 
not only to govern France but to administer her from his army camp, and during 
military operations he did actually do this.’ 3 

He wished to be informed in the most methodical and precise manner. His 

I. XXIX, 279 ff. 2. XXIX, 597. 



officials were always kept on the leash, and they had to give account of them- 
selves to their suspicious and overworked master. Even when lie was away at 
the head of his army, and getting further and further from Pans, he insisted on 
this. One realizes that in this way war meant that civil affairs were more or less 
at a standstill; and mider the Empire there was almost always war. 

Napoleon works with never-failing accuracy on liis data, his statistics, and 
his reports; if this requires nights, he stays up. 

But the mechanism of men and of things does not always respond. Wishing to 
give them a single and straight impulse, the master sometimes pushes them off the 
rails or makes them lose their balance. Nothing is more fascinating than the spec- 
tacle of tins struggle between the strongest will the world has ever known and 
the hardest task ever shouldered by a human being. Incomparable administrator 
though Napoleon was, at times the impossible enterprise of fitting together two 
contrasting periods and two opposing histories proves too strong for him. He was 
too violent, too passionate . . . This is, to my mind, the characteristic trait. In spite 
of his marvellous realistic activity, Napoleon remains un imaginatif, tin rheur dti 
grand. He overdoes his quickness of decision; he does not have himself m hand 
completely. He is essentially a visionary and a talker about things ... He who 
wants to see in Napoleon the man of action alone, and blinds himself to the visionary 
and the rhetorician, will find it hard to understand his reverses - and even his 

Hanotaux here inserts a beautiful description of Bonaparte in the Council of 
State, taken from the memoirs of Mole. Mole writes about 4 the inexhaustible 
verve, as the most characteristic trait of his mind*, and shows him at the meeting, 
lost in thought, taking pinches of snuff from his golden box, so much a man 
meditating in solitude that those who were present kept a profound silence, but 
then again, talking, talking, and his talk was nothing but thinking aloud. 

Only compare this [says Hanotaux] with our other statesmen, with that expression- 
less face of Louis XI, with the impassive Richelieu, with the frozen blood of 
Talleyrand, and you will be able to gauge the abyss separating this great man from 
the other great men of our own soil. 

While talking, he forms projects, takes decisions, hut only too often he neglects 
or forgets his projects and his decisions almost as soon as they have dropped from 
him. His correspondence contains, together with his grandiose and diverse 
creations, an almost equally great number of ‘false starts, impracticable schemes, 
and failures’. 

And this not only in administrative work but also in high politics. 

Everyone knows how Napoleon fell under the charm of the colonial dream, how 



he abandoned it after San Domingo, ceding Louisiana to the United States; nor 
do I need to recall what a gigantic conception was the plan for the invasion of 
England, based on Villeneuve’s naval operations which ended at Trafalgar; m the 
same way Napoleon successively put his faith in the Prussian alliance, the Russian 
alliance, the Austrian alliance, without finding a firm point d’appui anywhere, 
because he could not bring himself to make the necessary sacrifices. The man of the 
Concordat dragged the Pope to Fontainebleau, which was neither logical nor 
pleasing to the aesthetic sense. 

In current administration, these whims multiply themselves, the gusts of wind 
swell ever more frequently to gales; his agents, never sure whether he will be 
satisfied or angry, tremble. Villeneuve had been disconcerted by the blasts of the 
imperial correspondence before Nelson’s broadsides blew him to pieces. The plans 
are invariably impressive on paper. Some get carried into execution, but how many 
are abandoned for lack of means ! For while Napoleon always demands of all his 
servants forcible and immediate execution, he generally places only moderate 
means at their disposal, and those in a niggardly fashion. Meanwhile he purposely 
mistakes their available resources, exaggerates them in words, grudges them in 
fact, to show surprise finally when results do not come in . . . This, the greatest 
defect of all that can mar a man of action, the maladjustment between the imagina- 
tion and reality, is to ruin him ... It might be said that Napoleon’s correspondence 
is paved with illusions and disillusionments, and it is this changefulness, this scenic 
railway of heights and depths, of successes and failures, which explains the general 
fatigue, until in the end everything topples over into the abyss. . . . 

In a word, the great man was great everywhere, but less in civil than in military 
matters. His civilian work too was of course brilliant, since (to quote the most 
forceful and aptest word he ever spoke) he cleaned up the Revolution, and since 
out of the malodorous mud of the Directorate he constructed a France of marble 
which for a moment filled the world with astonishment. But the great adminis- 
trator, master illusionist, provided a plentiful crop of disappointments and ruins in 
the midst of all that brilliance. His appearance would be more harmonious, and his 
contribution to the history of France greater and even more beneficent than it 
actually was, if with a greater indulgence for men and a better judgement of 
obstacles he had tempered his Corsican impetuosity and his Florentine guile with a 
little French sense. 1 

I have not interrupted Hanotaux for quite a space. I must restrain myself from 
giving more quotations from the pages in which he elaborates tins general appre- 
ciation of Napoleon as administrator, demonstrates the system in detail, and dis- 
cusses the collaborators. I restrict myself to a single remark about what we have 
just read. It seems to me to be one of the happiest sketches of Napoleon at work 
which I have come across. Neither the mistakes he made nor their effects are 
minimized. Yet an impression is left of greatness and of unusualness. And how 

i. xxix, 602 fF. 



much more convincing, how much more truthful does this appear than the 
over-idealized sketch we were given by Madelin. It is particularly the latter’s 
unconditional praise for Napoleon the realist which sounds hollow by the side 
of this impressive study of the illusionist. 

The most original part of Hanotaux’s study is that about Social Transformation . 1 
I shall not try to follow the whole of his expose of the rise of the bourgeois 
society in the nineteenth century. The important part is his attempt to examine 
how far there arose from the fragments of the ancien regime a new society, all 
in one piece, with a visage of its own - an order, a morality, and an attitude of 
mind - and what was the share of Napoleon in its creation. 

The great thought of the reign, fusion, these words he had already quoted 
with approval. 3 Not only had the Revolution been adapted to the old order, 
civic liberties confirmed, and religion restored to a place of honour, but the 
social classes were shaken together into a new mixture. The imigrfc had been 
enticed back and were being absorbed into the new leading class. Fashion had 
abolished the old elegance and colour, and had covered everything in sober 
black. Money alone established distinctions, and everybody worked equally 
hard to acquire it. Already in discussing the constitution Hanotaux had shown 
how the bourgeois society was being prepared. The revolutionary system of 
elections had made room for one of working with notables indicated by the 
government itself. The prime criterion for inclusion in the lists in each cUparte - 
ment was being among those who paid the highest taxes. After this the prefects 
had also to take into account birth, status of the family, etc. In doing this, says 
Hanotaux, the Emperor laid the foundations for ‘Philippism’j 

Is it not surprising that Napoleon the hero of war, Napoleon the romantic 
genius, should have been the pioneer of this rigid solemn middle class, which 
esteemed property before all else and which was to reach its full glory under 
Louis Philippe, with bis umbrella under his arm? Hanotaux is far from represen- 
ting Napoleon as the only or even the main agent of the transformation. He 
sees it as the achievement of the whole nation, reacting against the confusion, 
loss of balance, and disruption of the crisis. No one of its component elements 
has led this development, not even the upper middle classes, among whom there 
continued to be much reserve and disapproval towards the Napoleonic regime. 
Napoleon himself was able to assist the process only where he moved with the 
current of his time; wherever he tried to row against it, for instance when he 
established his new military nobility, he failed. But in many respects he was in 
2. xxvi, 99. 3* xxix, 298. 



full sympathy with the tendencies that were gaining strength, and he was able 
to assist them hy encouragement, by example, and by his actions. 

Towards the financiers he was always distrustful. He completely lacked 
economic insight - we have seen how much Hanotaux emphasizes this in 
another connexion. And yet there was something which attracted him in the 
entrepreneurs , in the creators of goods and of employment; industry owed much 
to his regime, even if it was merely as the unintentional result of the Continental 
System, and he had a certain esteem for manufacturers. For this he was repaid 
with interest later hy the followers of Saint-Simon ; we have read earlier on (p. 286) 
the reflections of Leroux. But there are two points where Napoleon exercised 
personal influence to which Hanotaux specially draws our attention: ‘his 
setting the example of hard work, and his preoccupation with respectability.’ 1 

As to his industry, about this we have heard enough already to realize that it 
was impressive. Hanotaux contrasts Napoleon’s mode of existence with that 
of the kings - how different it was to be once more, after his time, in the case of 
Louis XVIII and Charles X! This respect for labour, this steady conscientious 
consecration to the daily task, is an eminently bourgeois virtue which was to 
be glorified properly only in the new age. 

As regards the other point: 

Napoleon’s personal morality was not on a very high level ; mamiers he had none. 
His numerous amours smack of the garrison. He chucks women under the chin, 
and throws the most peculiar remarks at them. Such sentiments, habits, and tone 
are the rule at his court. There is an ugly side to all this magnificence. 

This conceded, the master behaves himself, and it is his wish that others shall do 
the same. No acknowledged mistress, no display of scandals ... Not much is 
improved in men’s morals, on the whole; but by order from on high a mask of 
decency and propriety has been assumed. 

The age of prudishness, of propriety, of hypocrisy, has been inaugurated. 
Here again one sees in Napoleon the union of conflicting tendencies, of bour- 
geoisie and romanticism. 

And the war hero, the conqueror? One can - and this again makes him a real 
man of the nineteenth century - see in him the Emperor of officials. Who worked 
as hard at his desk? Who was such a devourer of regularly returned reports, 
drawn up on a fixed pattern? One might even call him the Emperor of professors, 
hater of free thought and of ideology though he was. For the university with its 
rigid organization and hierarchy of the teaching personnel, has proved to be 
the most characteristic and the most durable of all his creations. 

1. xxxin, 95. 




4 The year 1807 s , thus Hanotaux opens his last article, ‘is the year of fate in the 
reign of Napoleon/ 1 1 807 is the year of Eylau and of Fricdland, followed by the 
unexpected denouement of Tilsit. 

During his long absence from Paris, a change took place in the Emperor’s 
person. He had suddenly become stout, heavier, slower m his movements, and 
also irritable. It was only in anger that he showed Ms old vivacity. There was 
the near defeat of Eylau, the hard work in Castle Fmckcnstein to avert the sudden 
threat of disaster. It is true that during this sojourn in the cold east Prussian winter 
he also knew love; it is the period of the little Polish countess Maria Walewska, 
the only one among Ms affairs wMch has the flavour of romance. It is true also 
that he kept Ms mind sufflciently free to steep himself in the affairs of peace, and 
that for instance he wrote a famous and really profound note about education, 
wMch was never put into practice. Yet it is to the heavy work, under the threat 
of danger and in the consciousness of impatience and disappointment stirring in 
France, that Hanotaux attributes the change. 

Jena, the crushing of the still glorious army of Frederick the Great, had made 
him. more proud than ever, and keen to venture on the most ambitious schemes. 
His aim now was ‘to conquer the sea with the might of the land’, as he wrote 
to Joseph. TMs means that he already saw Russia overthrown, behind her the 
East conquered, and Britain, wMch he declared from Berlin to be in a state of 
blockade (the Continental System), brought to her knees. Eylau, however, 
proved that he was facing heavier odds than ever before in Ms hfe. 

It was, as Hanotaux expresses it, a warning from Providence. But could Napo- 
leon harken to it? Was an interruption of the game, was a gradual retreat towards 
the Rhine not more dangerous even than a resumption of the struggle? Would 
the legend of Ms invincibility be proof against it? Would not the whole of Ms 
position in Germany - and worse, in Paris - be undermined? We catch a glimpse 
here of the theory of the fatality of Napoleon’s continual further advances; but 
how much more acceptable is it in tMs limited form than in Sorel ! Hanotaux 
says no more, and it seems perfectly justified, than that Napoleon, having ven- 
tured too far , after Jena had obscured his judgement , could not draw back. At Fincken- 
stein he prepared a new battle, wMch was to be a victory. But what a problem I 
For Ms losses at Eylau had been extremely heavy. The grande armee had been 
used up ; it hardly existed any more. How were new troops to be obtained? This 
became the compelling, torturing question. He was successful once more. Fried- 
land caused Alexander to decide on peace, and Tilsit. 

1. xxxiv, 824. 



But what was Tilsit? Taking a very different view from that of Vandal, 
Hanotaux thinks the Tsar never had any other object than to gain time. And 
indeed, the same is true of Napoleon. Napoleon re-entered Paris triumphant, 
but he clung obstinately to his extravagant plans; and in spite of the anxieties 
through which he had passed, he continued to follow the line that was to lead 
him from difficulty to difficulty and at last to catastrophe. 

It was a line (and this is what is brought out in Hanotaux’s account) which 
weighed upon and upset the whole of his internal policy and his policy towards 
the territories which had been annexed, brought under his influence, or made 
dependent. More than ever France was ‘in a state of siege’; and with France, 
the whole of Napoleonic Europe. Everything was subordinated to the first 
and principal requisite of this dizzy policy: men, soldiers. The Empire became 
un empire de recrutement. 

A change of personnel at the centre accompanies the new course. 

The Emperor has embarked upon a political enterprise which no longer agrees 
with the idea which men had at first formed of his usefulness to the national cause. 
Now that he is losing himself in the colossal struggle, and exceeds that moderation 
so dear to Frenchmen, the shrewd foresee his fall, while the docile, with hanging 
heads, follow their leader wherever he goes. The eagle takes his flight with out- 
stretched wings over the heads of the little band present at his start, and in a sense 
this group falls asunder of its own accord. 1 

The author now discusses Josephine, Fouche, and Talleyrand. He recalls the 
latter’s Strasbourg note of 1805, a document ‘crammed with prophecies’, and 
concludes that the separation was inevitable, since in the presence of this develop- 
ment into the impossible Talleyrand could no longer feel confidence in the 
master’s star. 

Napoleon, knowing what the inexorable intimate of the whole of his career means 
to him, dare not strike him down at one blow . . . Talleyrand, freed for his part 
from all obligations towards a system that has never been anything but a period in 
his career, could already say what he was to write at a later stage, with perfect 
sincerity and unrivalled bad faith: T left the ministry in accordance with my wish.* 

Let us note that Hanotaux, holding the judgement we know about Napoleon’s 
policy, and full of admiration for the wisdom of the note of 1805, like most 
French historians fails to overcome his repugnance at Talleyrand’s manoeuvres. 
And in fact, even now, he unites with his condemnation of Napoleon’s far- 
reaching plans an admiration for the manner in which the Emperor, supported by 
second-rate ministers whose sole virtue was obedience and zeal, managed to 
communicate his energy to the whole body of his empire. ‘A lesson of discipline, 
industry, and enthusiasm is spread to the farthest limits of greater France.’ 3 

1. xxxiv, 835. 2. xxxiv, 841. 



But die wliole of his policy now turns on recrufement. Already at Finckenstein 
Napoleon had decided that henceforth the vassal states must produce their full 
quota. It was after all a matter of making real this European unity which was at 
the same time benefiting from the immeasurable blessings of the French Revolu- 
tion and from what Napoleon himself called le beau ideal de la civilisation. 1 Did 
the world agree with him on this point? All the kings, his own brothers, protest 
in the name of the national interests which they feel called upon to defend. It is 
that - and not, as Masson had tried to suggest, his personal dynastic feeling after 
the birth of the King of Rome - it is tins reluctance and Napoleon’s own obstinate 
persistence in his grandiose plans, and in demanding ever more fresh soldiers 
with whom to carry them out, that is the true reason why the federal Empire 
must become a unified Empire, why the Empire must for ever expand and absorb 
the whole continent. 

When the King of Rome is bom to Napoleon, according to Hanotaux,* he 
imagines that he will leave this son 

a united, pacified world, which has been lifted to V ideal de la civilisation. But this by 
no means implies, as has been asserted, a new Roman Empire. Napoleon has in 
nnnd something different from a repetition of the past. His original genius does not 
lend itself to imitation. It creates. He would certainly have looked upon it as an 
unforgivable insult if one had tried to draw a parallel between the dynasty he was 
creating and the very mixed lot of the successors of Augustus. He did not seek to 
model himself on Diocletian, not even on Marcus Aurelius. 

To the last we see in Hanotaux’s essays merciless criticism alternating with or 
even united to generous admiration. It is rather amusing to end on a passage in 
which Driault is called to order for having insulted the great man - Driault, 
whose convert fervour, as we have seen, had made him into the most enthusiastic 
of all admirers. 

1. XXXIV, 832. 

2. p. 858. 

9 Georges Lefebvre 



In the well-known Histoire Genirale of Halphenand Sagnac, Peuples et civilisations, 
the fourteenth volume, entitled Napoleon , was written hy Georges Lefebvre, 
maitre de conferences & la Faculte des Lettres de Paris. Its date is 1935. It is not a biog- 
raphy of Napoleon. It is a textbook for the history of the world during the period 
1799-1815. The author knows that he must deal with many matters which were 
outside Napoleon’s grasp or belonged to the opposite camp. The Anglo-Saxon 
countries preserved their liberal tradition, capitalism was developing, the middle 
class was preparing to take power, nationalities began to revolt. The uniformity 
which Napoleon imposed upon his part of the world was only outward appear- 
ance. Beneath is the diversity which will characterize the nineteenth century. But 
during this brief period everything seemed to be yielding to him, he was the 
leader of history. Therefore, concludes the preface, this volume appears under his 

As a matter of fact, one finds in it a surprisingly complete picture of Napoleon. 
It is a textbook, detailed and condensed. But wherever one opens it, there is 
evidence of penetrating judgement, and the author has even found space for the 
inclusion from time to time of general reflections on events. 

I have said before that I considered dealing with Lefebvre under the general 
heading of XJniversitaires. He is indeed a pure example of that class, and in a certain 
sense one can look upon him as being the very opposite of the typical but un- 
distinguished academicien Madelin. Thinking of my division into for and against , 
I have no hesitation in placing him among the latter. And yet, just as we found in 
Hanotaux an academicien with a strong universitaire strain, we find in Lefebvre’s 
vision something which transcends the merely professional quality as well as the 
party bias of the typical universitaire. If I introduce him to wind up the discussion, 
this does not mean that it is now terminated ; there is no last word, there is no end. 
But it seems to me that Lefebvre has assimilated the discussion as it has proceeded 
so far, more harmoniously than Hanotaux, and not without a trace of the latter’s 
influence. 1 Lefebvre is obviously aware of the problems as formulated in their 

1. It was his reference to Hanotaux’s various articles in the Revue des Deux Mondes in 
his bibliography which drew my attention to the latter’s work. 



many-coloured diversity by his predecessors. He solves them according to Ms 
own way of thinkiiig: his book is far from being a series of samples from diverse 
conceptions, but in its unity it is richly varied. And although the true admirers n£ 
the Napoleonic tradition are boimd to reject liis interpretation, he is free from 
parti pris . He has an eye for the positive achievements, and above all he can 
appreciate the greatness of the figure. If I add to this that he writes vividly and to 
the point, and shows himself a man of imagination, I cannot resist a feeling of 
regret because the universitaire has allowed himself to be shut up in a textbook, 
and has left the great work in twelve volumes to the acadanicicn . 


After Taine, Hanotaux, and Madelin, although aware of the changes which made 
the young general almost unrecognizable in the megalomaniac Emperor, 
Georges Lefebvre has attempted to draw a portrait of Napoleon . 1 There are a 
number of traits which by now have become very familiar to us, but the portrait 
as a whole shows a remarkable tact and a fine balance. 

His brain is among the most perfect that have ever been. His ever ready attention 
seizes indefatigably upon facts and ideas, which his memory registers and classifies. 
His imagination plays with them freely, and a state of incessant secret tension enables 
it tirelessly to produce those political and strategic theses which reveal themselves 
to him as sudden intuitions comparable to those of the mathematician and the poet. 
This happens especially at night when he wakes up suddenly. He himself speaks of 
‘the moral spark’ and ‘the after-midnight presence of mind’. This spiritual fire 
illumines through his glittering eyes the face, still ‘ sulphuric’ at his rise, of the sleek- 
haired Corsican . 31 

This is what makes him unsociable; not, as Taine would have us believe, a 
certain brutality, as of a somewhat battered condotticre let loose upon the world in 
all his ferocity. He was only fair to himself when he said: ‘I am not at bottom a 
bad sort.’ He showed generosity and even kindness to his immediate environment ; 
but between ordinary mortals and Napoleon Bonaparte, who was all effort and 
concentration, there could exist no common measure or true community. Out of 
this physical and intellectual disposition arose that irresistible impulse towards 
action and domination which is called his ambition. He saw clearly into himself: 
‘It is said that I am ambitious, but this is an error; or at least, my ambition is so 
intimately allied to my whole being that it cannot be separated from it.’ It cannot 
be better expressed. Napoleon is before all else a temperament. 

The author then remarks how well it suited Napoleon to be an officer. Giving 
orders agreed with his nature, and in Italy and in Egypt, and even in France, lie 
introduced the military system into the government. He was able to consult, but 

I. pp. 60-6. 2. See p. 32 above: Auguste Barker’s poem. 



never to debate or to discuss. Hence His Hatred for tHe ideologists, while for the 
confused and undisciplined yet formidable masses He had both hatred and 

But there were in him several personalities besides that of the soldier, and it is 
tins diversity which makes Him so fascinating. There was the victim of early 
neglect who lived to enjoy a fortune. There was - a nobler trait - the man who 
wanted to know and understand everything. Entering active life after his stud- 
ious youth, he remained un cirebral . Even though now he wants to be practical, 
he is still a typical man of the eighteenth century, a rationalist, a philosophe. He 
distrusts intuition, and believes in the power of reasoning. 

In his conception of the unitary state, made of one piece according to a simple and 
symmetrical plan, he is entirely classical. At some moments his intellectualism 
reveals itself by his most marked characteristic, the dichotomy of the personality, 
the power to see himself live and to meditate wistfully on Iris own fate. 

There follows, among other utterances, that noted hy Roederer at the Tuileries 
(seep. 345)* 

Thus by a strikingly roundabout way this powerful and orderly mind slips from 
inteUectuahsm into the romantic melancholia of Chateaubriand and de Vigny. But 
it is never more than a flash, and he pulls himself together at once. 

A realist? In practice, in the knack of playing upon the passions and the interests 
of men, he is one, and to the highest degree. He has discerned very clearly what in 
the Revolution touched the heart of the nation and fitted in with his despotism. 
‘To win over the French, he announced himself both as the man of peace and as 
the god of war.’ 

A realist, however, only in execution. 

A second personality lives within him, which has some of the features of the hero. 
It seems to have been bom in him, as early as the days of the Military Academy, out 
ofhis longing to dominate the world, in which he felt himself despised, and especially 
to equal the semi-legendary figures of Plutarch and Corneille. "What he coveted 
above all else was glory. 

Alexander, the East; Caesar, Augustus, Charlemagne . . . He does not draw rules 
of conduct from these historical memories, they merely fructify his imagination 
and communicate an unutterable charm to action. 

It is not so much his heroes’ achievements which inflame his soul, as the sheer 
spiritual fire of which these are the tokens. He is an artist, apoet of action, for whom 
France and mankind were but instruments . . . This is why it is idle to look for the 



limit which Napoleon put to his policy, or for die goal at which he would have 
stopped . . . Thus we find in a psychological form, that dynamism of temperament 
which struck us at the first glance. It is the romantic Napoleon, a force which seeks 
free play and for which the world is but an occasion for acting dangerously. The 
realist, on the contrary, can be recognized by his taking note of the possible when 
fixing his aim, and by his knowing where to stop. 

But circumstances too are responsible for Napoleon’s escape from reality. He 
had become French at alate date, and had never completely identified himself with 
the traditions and interests of the nation. 

There has remained in him something of the uprooted person. Also of the man tom 
from his class : he is not entirely a nobleman nor entirely of the people. He has served 
the King and the Revolution without attaching himself to either. [This is why he 
was able, at the be ginnin g, to place himself so successfully above parties, but also] 
neither in the old nor in the new order did he find principles which might have 
provided him with a norm or a limit. Unlike Richelieu, he was not curbed by 
dynastic fidelity, which would have subordinated his will to the interest of his 
master. Nor was he amenable to the civic virtue which could have made him a 
servant of the nation. 

A successful soldier, a pupil of the pliilosophes, he detested feudalism, civil in- 
equality, religious intolerance. In enlightened despotism he saw the w T ay to recon- 
cile authority and social and political reform. He became its last and most illustrious 
representative, and this is the sense in which he was the man of the Revolution. But 
his impetuous individuality never accepted democracy, so that he rejected the 
great expectation of the eighteenth century which inspired revolutionary idealism, 
the hope of a future when mankind would be civilized enough to be its own master. 

Even care for his own safety could not restrain him. He dreamed only of stark 
and dangerous heroism. Was there a moral curb? No. 

In his spiritual life he had nothing in common with the rest of mankind. Even 
though he knew their passions, which he applied with astonishing ability to his 
own ends, his attention was exclusively for those that can be used to reduce men to 
dependence. He belittled everything that raises them to altitudes of sacrifice, 
religious faith, patriotic enthusiasm, love of freedom, for in all these he feared 
obstacles for his own schemes. In his own youth he had been open to those senti- 
ments which so easily conduce to heroic action. But circumstances^ gave him a 
different turn, and shut him up within himself. In the splendid and terrible isolation 
of the will to power, measure loses its sense. 

With the aid of this sketch it is already possible to situate Georges Lefebvre 
fairly accurately. Though careful, with a typically modem baslifulness, to avoid 
moral terms, he shows traits that point to a spiritual descent from Mme de Stael. 



When lie points out that spiritual loneliness was the result of Napoleon’s elevation 
of self, he even agrees with Taine, though guarding against the latter’s exaggera- 
tion. He upholds the conception that Napoleon rejected the highest ideals which 
had. animated the French Revolution, those of democracy and human dignity - 
thereby separating himself from conservatives like Vandal and Madelin, and even 
from Thiers. When he puts such emphasis upon the absence of a final goal in 
Napoleon’s policy, upon his lack of measure, he places himself in opposition to 
both Sorel and Driault; and while in reducing everything to temperament he 
once more displays his affinities with the old detracteurs, from Mme de Stael to 
Lanfrey and Taine, his modem attitude reveals itself in the use he makes of the 
conception of romanticism. This we have already met in Guerard, Bainville, and 
Hanotaux. It helps Lefebvre, like Guerard and Bainville, to discern the greatness 
and beauty of the figure, to which the Barnis and the Lanfireys were blind. But 
like Hanotaux he attaches to the epithet an implication which as far as politics 
are concerned is very unfavourable, and in using it, and especially in the limits he 
sets to Napoleon s 'realism’, he is clearly hitting at Madelin. 

Yet when we come to look at the book more closely we shall be able to add a 
number of httle traits to the figure - perhaps of Napoleon, certainly of the author. 


Lefebvre’s reserved attitude towards N apoleon had revealed itself at an even earlier 
stage of his book, when in a review of the war situation, and the possibilities of 
peace in 1799, he discusses the Directorate. His interpretation is intended to 
weaken the usual contrast which (having been indicated akeady by Armand 
Lefebvre and Thiers) had been so strikingly worked out by Vandal. He explains 
the evil reputation of the Directorate by the impossible financial situation which 
it had inherited from the Convention: worthless assignats withdrawn, a state 
bankruptcy, all credit gone, nothing but the receipts of taxation for financing the 
war. The regime struggled manfully with these difficulties, and introduced con- 
siderable improvements in the system of taxation. In the administrative sphere 
too there are good reforms to the credit of this much abused government; they 
were soon to benefit the First Consul. But inflation could not be avoided: the 
army suffered from it, hence its resentment against the ‘lawyers’. The disinte- 
gration of the administration, of the policy, of public order, also resulted from it. 
The need for money explains why the Directorate came to practise its policy of 
exactions in the occupied territories and paid for the war out of its conquests. 
Lefebvre does not fail to add that the generals did not forget their own needs in 
applying this system. 

By thus presenting matters, he links up with the previous volume in the series 


in which the Directorate had been dealt with by Guyot (see p. 241). At the same 
time he recognizes that the government failed to find really satisfactory solutions 
for urgent problems, and admits that in consequence, in leading political circles 
and among intellectuals in general, there was impatience and discontent and an 
inclination to try a stronger government, one in which power was concentrated, i f 
not in the hands of a single man. Thus the 18th Brumaire is not an accident in hi* 
view, it is not in itself an event about wludi one might (as was Lanfrcy, for 
instance) be seriously upset : 

A11 inner necessity drove the Revolution to dictatorship, and not for the first time. 
[The author naturally thinks of Robespierre.] Nor was it an accident that it led to 
the dictatorship of a general. But it happened that this general was Napoleon 
Bonaparte, whose temperament even more than his genius could not easily 
acquiesce in peace and in moderation. Thus it was all the same something un- 
predictable that caused the scale to topple over towards the side of the guerre 
etetnelle . z 

But before passing to a review of Lefebvre’s conception of the problem of war 
and peace - the main Imes of which can already be predicted, with the help of this 
and previous quotations - let us say a word about the whole of the First Consul’s 
constructive work. 

A moment ago I established a connexion between this author and Mme de 
Stael, but it is necessary to observe that he takes a very critical attitude towards 
the practical policy of that great exponent of liberalism. He never fails to underline 
its bourgeois class character. The Jacobins, he said, in 1799 as in 1793, wanted a 
democratic dictatorship. Not so the ideologists of the salon of Mme de Stael. 
They did not even want a democracy. Mme de Stael summarized their pro- 
gramme, and it amounted to 4 a representative system that would guarantee the 
power to the notables of money and of talent’. In the words of Lefebvre, this 
was nothing but 4 a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’; and as those who were 
aiming at this could only address themselves to the army (excluding, as they did, 
the people), they suddenly found themselves under an entirely different, a per- 
sonal dictatorship. This supremely important change of regime, which intro- 
duced extreme centralization and placed the appointment of all officials - who 
had till then been elective - in the hands of the First Consul, was possible because 
the Revolution had swept away all group resistance, because the extreme de- 
centralization on a democratic basis introduced by the Constituante obviously 
weakened the country against the danger from abroad, and because the ideolo- 
gists - liberals, well-to-do and educated bourgeois, the notables in other words - 
though delivered from the democratic danger and in possession of all the jobs, 
x. p. 58. 



were still not satisfied and constantly allowed themselves to be tamed by Bona- 
parte’s * Voulez-vous que je vous livre aux Jacobins?’ Mme de Stael, ‘who had 
hoped to govern France by mean’s of Bonaparte or at any rate of Benjamin 
Constant’, attempted opposition. On 5 January Constant delivered at the Tribun- 
ate the speech he had been discussing with her. ‘At once the ruler became angry, 
and everyone took cover.’ 1 

The methods of the dictator were those of a ‘ terrorist ’. a Lefebvre says it 
without beating about the bush, and we have seen (pp. 326, 331) that this word 
‘terrorist’ had become almost traditional among the universitaires. He writes this 
with reference to the pacification of the Vendee, but the proscription of the 
Jacobins after the attack with the infernal machine, and the establishment of 
special tribunals and of military commissions as an ordinary means of administra- 
tion help him to complete the picture. 7/ faut du sang \ declared Bonaparte in the 
Council of State when it dealt with the Jacobins (suspected after the attempt, but, 
as we know, innocent). 3 

When dealing with popular disturbances the First Consul was equally harsh. 
There were disturbances, and for a number of years to come, as the financial 
situation which had created so much trouble for the Directorate was not to be 
remedied overnight, and when the harvest failed it was difficult to obtain grain 
from abroad. Although Bonaparte, as we know, did his best to keep up the level 
of bread distribution in Paris by organizing the bakery trade, there were repeated 
periods of scarcity, with the usual accompaniment of unrest. If the agitation did 
not assume so serious a form as in 1789, when bread was also very expensive 
though not so expensive as in 1801 and 1802, this was due, says Lefebvre, not only 
to the absence of political and social troubles, but especially to the efficient 
organization of repression which had just been introduced. 

Thus, popular excitement could only result in a still closer attachment of the 
propertied class to Bonaparte. He became the bulwark of society. 

The crisis therefore helped him not a little in acquiring the Consulate for life in 


Towards the most famous constructive work of Bonaparte in his happiest years 
Lefebvre also adopts an attitude more critical than admiring. Let us devote a few 
words to the Concordat and the Code. 

What the author points out in the first place is an observation we met for the 

1. pp. 39, 80 fE 2. p. 83. 3. p. 131. 4. p. 119. 



first time in Dtiault (p 310). As lie tersely expresses it, 1 2 the application made to 
the Pope to dismiss the French bishops amounted to the administration of a 
mortal blow to Gallicanism. But, he says, this old French tradition was totally 
ahen to Bonaparte. How sharply an opinion like this differs from that of Masson, 
who gloried in the view that his hero had imbibed this doctrine with Ins extracts 
from Gerson (see p. 171). According to Lefebvre, Bonaparte saw nothing but the 
most immediate practical advantages. He considered it the only way of getting 
rid of a tiresome counter-revolutionary element. At the same time, imagining 
himself strong enough to keep the Roman Church under control, he wanted to 
use the religious renaissance for the sake of winning the counter-revolutionary 
aristocracy and middle class. Religion became once more de bon ton in good 
circles. ‘Sensing the wind that blew*, Chateaubriand ‘proved the truth of 
Catholicism on its artistic qualities’. Fontanes, with more political acumen, took 
a wider view: ‘The restoration of the cult had a social significance, and was to 
support the new class division.* This was the innermost intention of Bonaparte 
himself. 3 

The tone of a page like this differs sharply from that in which Madehn - or 
more especially the believing Catholic, Hanotaux - discussed the Concordat. It 
indicates a general attitude of mind on the part of the writer towards the great 
religious, political, and social problems which were involved in this measure. 
But a different appreciation and even a different interpretation of Bonaparte’s 
action is the inevitable result. 


A general attitude of mind, anti-bourgeois, socialistic, also determines the judge- 
ment of the Code. No wonder that when one compares it with that of conserva- 
tives like Vandal and Madelin the accents are seen to fall very differently. 

The famous saying of Bonaparte in the Council of State that the French had 
been made by the Revolution into so many grains of sand and that it was his 
endeavour ‘to throw upon the soil of France a few blocks of granite, in order to 
give a direction to the public spirit* is unquestioningly accepted and admired by 
Madelin. c Les masses de granite * is the title of a chapter of his larger work. 3 The 
measures with which Bonaparte wished to counteract the excessive individualism 
of post-revolutionary society were the institution of the Legion of Honour, the 
settlement of education, and the Code. The storm of opposition which rose 

1. p. 120. 

2. If the reader turns back to pp. in f£, 124, 322, 365, he will see how various were 
the interpretations of this aim and of Bonaparte’s attitude to religion. 

3. Histoire du Consulat et de V Empire, iv, 166 f£ 



against the Legion of Honour is described by Madelin as a curious sample of the 
continued effect of the Revolution’s misconceptions. It was looked upon as a 
corporation, a grouping of privileged persons. As regards education, be first 
expatiates upon tbe deplorable neglect in which it was found by the First Consul 
and out of which he lifted it. He next cites from Napoleon’s opinions on education 
Ins wish to enlist it in the service of national unity, his respect for the classics (we 
know - see p. 134 - that this means for some of the classics), his preference for the 
sciences: all this without analysis or criticism, and in a tone of the most cordial 
agreement. ‘Meanwhile many other benefits were coming: work was proceed- 
ing on the Code.’ In introducing the Code civil Madelin speaks of nothing but the 
high intentions for moral recovery which animated the First Consul, and for the 
work itself he has the phrase ‘one of the finest portions of the building’. 1 He 
devotes to it a long and interesting discussion ; he fairly'summarizes the criticism 
to which it has been subjected, but only so as to lead up to the remark that every 
human work was bound to draw upon itself such criticism; and where he can he 
brmgs out the fact that the reactionary aspects one detects in it are due not to 
Bonaparte but to the lawyers. His conclusion is that this, the most impressive of 
the blocks of granite, also forms Napoleon’s highest title to fame. 

Hanotaux’s view is very different. 

The imperial policy [he writes] bom of the policy of the Revolution, was not at its 
best where the protection of the weak, the poor, the isolated was concerned. 
Society is a pyiamid which rests on its base, the people, makes them feel the whole 
of the weight. Let them accept and acquiesce; such is their lot. They have been 
guaranteed their political rights and their civil equality; this should suffice. As 
regards their economic rights, their claim to live, work, and enjoy prosperity, 
neither the State nor the nation cares. Property - that is all. 2 

Hanotaux does not blame Napoleon so much as public opinion for this ; after the 
Revolution there was a holy terror of disorder, submission was called for, and 
yet the French nation still cherished a profound hatred for all social exception or 

Faced with such sentiments, Napoleon, in spite of his great plans for reconstruction 
and consolidation, achieved nothing of permanent value for the masses. The age 
was stronger than he. The new society, by no means welded together by the 
vaunted blocks of granite, remained a dust cloud of human particles within the 
framework of a soulless administration rigidly subdivided into compartments. 
This dust could offer no resistance to imperial absolutism. 

When later on he deals with the establishment of the imperial nobility, and 
has quoted the apology of St Helena that ‘it is impossible to govern old and 

1. op. cit. iv, 183. a. Revue des Deux Mondes , xxxix, 295. 



corrupted nations without titles, decorations, harmless toys*, he exclaims: ‘How 
far we are here from the blocks of granite 

Let us now see what Lefebvre makes of all this. He begins by remarking that 
the picturesque expression used in the Council of State conceals the intention ‘to 
create bundles of interests, which are to be attached to the regime by advantage 
and honours and are expected to secure to it in exchange, through the influence 
they have upon wage earners, the obedience of the popular classes’. Intermediate 
bodies, corporate groupings, if you like; ‘but he and only he was to create the 
social body 9 . 

As conceived by Bonaparte the social hierarchy rested on wealth; nor was 
anything else possible, since he had seized power in conjunction with the middle 
class. The ideologists, indeed, by placing free education within the reach of all, had 
intended to raise talent to the level of property in the leadership of the State. But 
wealth once aquired has a natural tendency to reserve this privilege for itself, and 
Bonaparte shared the distrust of the rich for men of talent as long as they were 
poor: they formed a revolutionary ferment . . . 

(Implied in this passage is a criticism of the educational settlement, and further on 
Lefebvre introduces his set treatment of the subject widi a remark which places 
it at once in a different key from that which we observed in Madelin’s work: 
‘Public education as designed by Bonaparte was m accordance with that social 
organization and with the authoritarian nature of the regime.’) To continue my 
quotation from his analysis of the social hierarchy: 

When Bonaparte proclaims himself to be the representative of the social revolution, 
he always reduces the great movement to the abolition of privileges, of which the 
consequence was the accession to power of the bourgeoisie censitaire [the well-to-do 
middle class which under the ‘census’ system after the Revolution was in exclusive 
possession of the suffrage]. At the decline of his despotism, the social regime of 
Year X will be seen to have laid the foundation for the July monarchy. 1 

‘ The Code civil was the bible of that regime.’ As for Napoleon’s personal share 
in it, Lefebvre remarks quite soberly that his direct interest was confined to the 
clause relating to the family. 

He was intent on strengthening the authority of the father and the husband [this 
is expressly denied by Madehn], onrobbing illegitimate children, if not recognized, 
of their heritage, and on minimizing that of those who have been recognized; also 
on retaining divorce, not without an eye to himself. 

The Code, the author continues, possesses, like all Napoleon’s work, a dual 
character. It confirms the disappearance of the feudal ari